Are we considering the real impact of fewer learners doing Level 2?

Since 2014/15, apprenticeship starts at level 2 have dropped from just over 298,000 to approximately 143,000 in 2018/19. A ‘shake up’ of sorts may have been required, and the announcement that the Business Administration apprenticeship framework will not be replaced has revived once again the conversation about the future of level 2 apprenticeships. There is a very real risk that we are further reducing the opportunities that level 2 apprenticeships can bring to individuals and employers.

I agree that there is a need to raise the quality of some apprenticeship programmes. The real opportunity is to make sure that the revised system still supports those looking to enter the jobs market or retrain via an apprenticeship route, preparing them for future progression. If we reduce opportunities at level 2, we reduce the chance for people to get into their first job and potentially stall attempts to address social mobility. This is likely to disproportionally impact younger learners who are looking to enter the labour market for the first time.

Last week, we held three focus group sessions across the UK to discuss the implications of not having a Level 2 Business Administration apprenticeship standard, gathering feedback from providers and employers to explore options for an alternative solution. Unsurprisingly, attendees believed that putting many 16-year-olds straight onto a level 3 would be challenging for them due to their lack of experience and inability to cover the broader job role expectations of the standards. They agreed that, without this option being available, we will lose opportunities for young people and for those who are looking to attain a level 2 to begin their careers.

There are some industries, such as automotive, health and social care and land-based, where level 2 is not only the entry point for many jobs, but also an opportunity to re-engage with training. The health and social care industry is a prime example of how the loss of level 2 options could negatively impact the sector. This industry is already facing a significant recruitment crisis that will worsen if level 2 opportunities are limited.  Making level 3 the main entry point, which could be unobtainable and unachievable for many individuals, may simply not be a tenable option for their workforce strategies.

We reached out to some colleagues in the health education area to ask for their opinions on this issue. Lucy Hunte, National Programme Manager – Apprenticeships at Health Education England, believes that level 2 apprenticeships are a vital entry route into the NHS. She also highlights the fact that many learners who take a level 2 framework would not have the required levels of maths and English to undertake a level 3.

Helen Wilcox MBE, CEO of Woodford Homecare and Support Services and Chair of the Care Apprenticeship Board, spoke from her experience as a home care provider. She stated that she had lost count of the number of people who earned a Level 2 Apprenticeship Certificate and followed this with further training before progressing to roles such as registered care manager, nurse, or physiotherapist. Progression was possible because they had raised their levels of educational attainment and confidence, acquiring a rich portfolio of transferable skills and knowledge by starting at level 2.

It is now essential that the further education sector and employers come together to review again what is happening at level 2 and to better understand the potential impact on the future labour market and economy. It is incumbent on all of us to provide evidence to support the need for level 2 apprenticeships and to revitalise opportunities for people at this level.

With Brexit now happening and immigration restricted, it is vital that we have an education and training system that creates the breadth of workers that UK industries will need. This means a skills ecosystem that delivers opportunity at all levels.

David Phillips,
Managing Director C&G and ILM – City & Guilds Group