The Department for Education recently published its long awaited guidance to Off-the-job (OTJ) for apprenticeships and applicable to frameworks and standards. The document is light, weighing in at a mere 14 pages, but covers what is probably one of the most anticipated, yet possibly controversial elements of apprenticeships – 20% of apprentices time must be allocated for OTJ training.
Firstly, here’s the official definition:
"Learning which is undertaken outside of the normal day-to-day working environment and leads towards the achievement of an apprenticeship. This can include training that is delivered at the apprentice’s normal place of work but mustn’t be delivered as part of their normal working duties. It must be directly relevant to the apprenticeship framework or standard.”
We first need to understand that the 20% is applied to the contracted time of an apprentice, not the number of weeks or months they are on programme. Let's see some examples covering varying hours contracted for a minimum 12 month (52 week) programme with 4 weeks holiday:
Apprentice contracted time = 30 hours per week
OTJ time - 30 x 48 @20% = 1440 @20% = 288 hours (41 days)
Apprentice contracted time = 37.5 hours per week
OTJ time - 37.5 x 48 @20% = 1800 @20% = 360 hours (51.5 days)
Apprentice contracted time = 40 hours per week
OTJ time - 40 x 48 @20% = 1920 @20% = 384 hours per week (55 days)
The time can be delivered in a number of ways such as part days, full days, planned weeks, and full week blocks or spaced out between start, middle and end of the time.
So what does this mean for employers, providers and apprentices?
The apprentices may not know too far in advance of their availability due to family circumstances –and this may meant they may work different hours each week or each month. The employer faces the prospect of losing staff at different times and having to find cover.
We all know that ways will be found to work around this 20% rule and some will be quite inventive. That still doesn't negate the fact that there may be a number of apprentices at one employer across a number of roles all with dynamically different OTJ training needs.
We also have another issue to throw into the mix - English and maths. Both of these are quite separate to the OTJ training and where an apprentice needs them to achieve their apprenticeship, that time must also be added on top.
So we have the potential for apprentices to be away from the workplace for 10 per 12 hours per week,what was 20% now becomes 25%. What was 1 day now becomes a day and a half or even more. Who wants to employ someone that could be away from the workplace for up to 2 days per week?
What we don't want is yet another obstacle to crop up when we need apprenticeships to continue to grow and be successful. We must ensure that providers, employers and apprentices fully understand how this new rule works, support them to implement it and make sure it becomes an asset not a liability.
In the words of Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills Anne Milton MP:
“We need apprentices to achieve because of the system and not despite of it”