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Maximising the potential of new Trailblazer Apprenticeship standards

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With April soon approaching and with it the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and new funding rules, more and more employers will be adopting new Apprenticeship 'Trailblazer' standard routes as traditional frameworks are replaced and withdrawn.

From the many conversations we are having with employers, one question we are continually asked is 'how will this improve what we do at the moment'?

For many existing high-quality Apprenticeships, which include professional exams and links to professional registration, the differences between old and new are not major but there are some key areas where we see a real opportunity to improve on current practice.

Flexibility

The new standards are offering much more flexibility for employers to design programmes that fit around your own requirements rather than having to follow prescriptive assessment criteria. Old Apprenticeship frameworks were very focused on proving that a range of different assessment criteria had been met and demonstrated. Whilst this added structure to schemes, it did create a 'one size fits all' approach potentially adding a considerable extra burden to students and employers to ensure all criteria was met even if it didn't relate directly to their job role or sector. The new standards are designed to move away from the NVQ assessment approach and enable employers to choose the most appropriate ways and methods for students to demonstrate the key skills and behaviours detailed in the standards making the learning more relevant to all involved.

Beyond exams

A very common criticism of many professional qualifications is that they only focus on exam success and don't reflect all-round development and performance in the workplace.

The new standards address this by focusing not just on knowledge gained in exam study but also requiring students to demonstrate key skills and behaviours deemed as essential for that particular job role. With new standards, the end-point assessment required in all sectors, ensures the whole standard is tested placing as much importance on the skills and behaviours developed as the traditional exam history leading to more well-rounded employees. Indeed many new standards will even grade apprentices based on their work based performance given an added motivation to strive to be the best in all areas of the Apprenticeship.

Continuous Improvement

A common requirement of most new standards is the need for students to keep training logs/learning records where, at regular intervals, they record and reflect upon the work they've done. Through check-ins with their managers/talent coaches they are encouraged to reflect upon what they've done, what they've learned and identify any gaps in their training programmes. The focus at the end of the programme that they should only put forward their very best evidence for example in a showcase portfolio or via a reflective statement, encourages students to continually strive to develop and improve rather than 'tick off' one requirement and move onto another, which is a criticism of the current approach to Apprenticeships.

Funding

Funding is now available for Apprenticeships across a wider range of qualifications and for a wider range of individuals with the relaxing of previous eligibility criteria. This should give employers who wish to embrace Apprenticeships access to additional support to provide a richer learning programme to a wider range of employees than may have previously been the case. The requirement to provide a substantial amount of 'off-the-job' training in order to be eligible for Apprenticeship funding also places assurances on the quality of the training experience those on programme will receive.

Standards are very new and undoubtedly there are many who are yet to be convinced on exactly how they will work in practice. However, interpreted in the way they are intended, we see the introduction of these standards as a really positive step forward. Taking the best bits from the old frameworks, with added flexibility, a wider focus on skills and behavioural training and new funding models to provide workforce training, standards should open up far more opportunities to really enhance the quality of learning. Consequently they should lead to better-rounded, better motivated employees and provide a really positive return on investment for employers adopting them.

By Cassandra Macdonald, Head of Client Solutions: Apprenticeships at Kaplan.

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