A new kind of apprenticeship agreement was introduced in April 2011 under legislation passed in 2009 by the outgoing Labour Government. Under these new arrangements (unlike the so-called “Modern Apprenticeships” introduced in 2004) apprentices were treated in most respects like “normal” employees. In particular, the traditional restrictions which prevented employers from ending apprenticeships early were removed. Under these rights – which dated back to the Middle Ages – employers had not been able to end an apprenticeship before the agreed training had been completed except in case of serious misconduct.
However, although this new framework was a considerable step forward in making apprenticeships more attractive to employers, the Coalition Government did not think it went far enough. It therefore commissioned the Richard review which reported in 2012. As a result further changes have been made to apprenticeships in England by simplifying the legal framework and giving employers a greater role in drawing up apprenticeship standards. Predictably enough, these new agreements will be known as “English apprenticeship agreements”. The new measures do not apply in Wales.
English apprenticeship agreements: legal status
Although the new legislation does not formally come into effect until 26 May, the move from the old to the new framework is already well under way. “Pathfinder” employers have already been active in drawing up new apprenticeship standards, which in some cases will result in degree-level or professional qualifications. Under a special dispensation, steps taken in anticipation of the new regime will be treated as having been done under the new framework.
The formal requirements for English apprenticeship agreements are very simple. There are two essential ingredients. First, the apprentice must be paid to work in a sector where an approved apprentice standard has been published. Secondly, the agreement must provide for him or her to receive training to achieve an approved standard. Save for the training element (subject to minor exceptions) the apprentice will be treated just like any other employee for legal purposes. By removing some of the more prescriptive formal requirements, the chance of creating a traditional apprenticeship “by mistake” has been significantly reduced.
Currently the Government is experimenting with a number of different models to provide financial assistance with the costs of training. When the transitional period unwinds – probably in the Autumn of 2017 – employers are likely to be required to take on some of the funding administration which at present is being channelled through educational providers.
There are a number of websites offering information, but the best starting point is likely to be the main Government landing page for apprenticeships here
Employers’ organisations such as the EEF
can also be a useful source of information.