The Challenge of the 20%

by Rossana Espinoza 0

Apprenticeships – the challenge of the 20%


As many of you know an apprenticeship is made up of several components but one of the clear criteria is that at least 20% of time spent on an apprenticeship must take place ‘off the job’.


I have spoken with employers and training providers recently who seem to be struggling with this. From the employers perspective this might seem like rather a lot of time to release their member of staff, especially if their training provider isn’t making it clear how this time will be used.


From the employer’s perspective, if you hire a new apprentice it is easy to ring fence a day a week or the equivalent for a block release programme. However, many employers are also looking at developing existing staff by way of an apprenticeship. This is especially advantageous with the development of higher and degree apprenticeships and means that the employer doesn’t need to find additional funding for a salary. This does however mean that the substantive apprentice’s manager will need to release these staff on the same 20% basis, for potentially a programme that may have already been running eg. Leadership and management but with a lesser period of release.


This is an inflexible parameter, so logistically if an organisation is setting up an apprenticeship scheme to include already employed staff, then direct line managers need to be clear that by approving their staff to participate in the scheme, it is implicit that they will need to be released. We also know that in the current climate there is unlikely to be any back fill to cover these hours. This may make apprenticeships a hard sell for the apprenticeship leads but if the organisation needs the skills the manager would be releasing their staff for some of this time anyway.


We could also see internal training budget cuts to counter balance levy payment. This may mean that wins could be made by reducing expenditure on some of these previously funded standard training programmes and converting these to apprenticeships, so it does make sense to engage with apprenticeships.


From the training provider’s perspective, some experienced and good quality providers have already incorporated the 20% into their programmes, others have not or learners might be expected to spend large amounts of time on self-study without much direction. So when commissioning this is something to look out for. What may make this worse is that under the new funding structure (April 2017), the funding that some apprenticeships can attract appears to be significantly reduced. This seems especially to be the case for apprenticeship provision to 16 – 18 year olds. A transitional uplift has been put in place to try to reduce the impact of this change. A further challenge that training providers are finding is the increased content of the new standards.


The net result is potentially reduced funding and / or increased content. So as employers we need to be especially vigilant that corners are not being cut and our apprentices are receiving quality 20% interventions. The most logical answer, for all parties would be well structured blended learning programmes, but these take time and resources to develop.


So what are the options?


  • Commission training providers that have a well-defined programme that is best fit with your skills gap and already have the 20% ‘off the job’ well structured.
  • Commission training providers that will keep you informed and allow you to input into the structure / options and course work as much as possible, to customise the provision. So that even when apprentices are not undertaking formal workshops they are still developing exactly the skills that you need.
  • Research which standard to recruit to, as the new trailblazer standards attract higher funding so may also attract better quality provision, but not necessarily.
  • Do the maths and look out for hidden employer contributions!
  • Be prepared to shop around for providers and look into their track record. I would also caution against assuming that an ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rating means that the provider is still outstanding at the time of commissioning as I have found that standards can fall quickly.
  • Stay on top of your training provision; don’t assume that ‘no new is good news’.
  • Be prepared to move training provider if they haven’t ‘come through with the goods’ at the end of the first cohort, or as a minimum be prepared to rewrite your SLA to tie them into better service with cohort 2.
  • Stay in close contact with your apprentice managers and apprentices so that you will pick up on issues before they become problems.
  • Apprentice managers need to know exactly what their staff are doing in their 20% and if it doesn’t seem sufficient, apart from discussing this with the apprenticeship lead and training provider they could provide projects and work that is related to the standard but is also something required for the job.


These are just a few suggestions and I am sure there are many more things that institutions can do, but hopefully they will give you a few ideas that will help you to get the most out of your 20%!



Julie Gray

Development Consultant



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