One year into apprenticeship reform and we are still learning; it has been a challenging year but it has brought benefits as well as disappointment.

The biggest challenge for providers as well as employers is the scale of the reform; everything from how the apprenticeships are funded, the increase in the number of forms, the introduction of contracts and the evolving new Standards to replace the old frameworks.

One benefit is that the reform has allowed the providers to work much more closely with their employers. It requires an absolute partnership particularly for their larger employers as they link up with their digital accounts and a greater empathy for the challenges they each face in the day to day running of effective businesses committed to the importance of growing and developing the workforce to provide greater opportunities for individuals as well as contributing to economic success.

It has been a delight to see the growth in Higher and Degree apprenticeships with apprentices now able to continue their development through to degree level where previously they may have found this difficult to manage alongside a full-time job.

Whilst it is extremely rewarding for providers to follow the journey their apprentices are starting to take through different academic levels and witness the renewed commitment to upskilling from many of their employer partners, they are also hoping to see the levels of recruitment of new apprentices bounce back so that school leavers or those out of work, are able to access these exciting opportunities.

Solihull College, BMET and South & City College are working in partnership on an ESF project. This has provided great insight into the challenges that the region’s SMEs face when trying to interpret apprenticeship rules and they have really enjoyed working together to share the opportunities available to them through apprenticeships and industry placements.

On reflection, we have learnt an awful lot and the colleges are excited to see what the new academic year brings as they continue to grow their apprenticeship offer in response to employer engagement.