My 20 year article...

This month LinkedIn has kindly reminded me that I have been at Starting Off for 20 years which has made me reflect on not only where that time has gone(!), but also how the world of work based learning has changed in that time.

When I joined Starting Off the internet and email were in their infancy and the words ‘social media’ still had separate meanings. Our students back then essentially studied intensive secretarial skills before being placed into the world of work. I was reminded of this recently when the gentleman that came to measure our training room for new furniture told me that his career had started 23 years ago on such a course with Starting Off and how he still values the skills he learned then (apparently his colleagues are all envious of his typing speed!), a timely reminder of the value of lifelong learning.

Successive governments have tried to implement different work based learning schemes to upskill the workforce; we have had the National Traineeship, the Modern Apprenticeship, Learn to Earn, Train to Gain, Entry to Employment and for the last few years, the Apprenticeship Framework system.

The past 12 months however has seen a major cultural shift in how Apprenticeships are being used and viewed in our society. With the spiralling costs of higher education, Apprenticeships are finally being viewed as real viable alternative to the degree route and there is increasing emphasis on Degree Apprenticeships being developed so that students can work and earn whilst being given the opportunity to study to degree level.

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy has been the tip of the iceberg in a whole raft of changes. For the first-time, funding is now linked to the size of the organisation, not the age of the apprentice. The new Apprenticeship Standards require more employer involvement, apprentices by law have to spend 20% of their work time in training and in order to pass an Apprenticeship will be subject to an independent End Point Assessment. The standards have become more rigorous yet also more flexible, with different delivery models available to training providers.

In my own sector of accountancy, we have just seen the introduction of an Apprenticeship at Level 7 (equivalent to a masters), which means Apprenticeship funding can be used to take candidates right through to the top level of professional qualifications such as ACCA, CIMA and ICAEW. This means that Apprenticeship funding now has the potential to take a candidate straight from school at 16, start them on a bookkeeping course and take them right through to becoming a chartered accountant or equivalent.

Despite bad press nationally, our Apprenticeship numbers at Starting Off have grown by a third over the last year so perhaps Northamptonshire is bucking the national trend.

For me the joy of working in this sector is having the privilege to see so many careers started and developed by the AAT qualification (regardless of what funding scheme they were under!). Many of our past students are now clients and friends, some have started their own businesses, gained degrees, become partners in practice or have used the start the AAT qualification has given them to become chartered or management accountants.

20 years ago, as well as joining Starting Off I also started running. Back then I could barely run a mile, now I can push out the occasional half marathon. So, despite the increasing years I am probably in better shape than back then and hopefully, although far from perfect, the Apprenticeship system is also on its way to being in better shape for the future of this country.