Column: Short-course skill pills would serve a purpose in addressing skills shortages

Posted on: 20th Jun 2024

Neville Algar, head of education at Ignite Training, discusses the apprenticeship levy and how political change might affect how organisations choose to invest in staff training

Much noise has been made around how apprenticeships might look in the future after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the UK would go to the polls on Thursday, July 4.

The Conservatives almost immediately pledged to fund 100,000 apprenticeships each year by closing the poorest-performing university courses based on drop-out rates, job progression and future earnings potential.

Labour meanwhile has promised to provide businesses with greater flexibility over how money earmarked for apprenticeships via the apprenticeship levy can be spent.

Without wishing to deep dive into the political voice of both parties, I was personally struck by the talk shadow minister for skills Seema Malhotra MP delivered at the Annual Apprenticeship Conference we attended in February at the ICC in Birmingham.

Her aspiration at the time was to ensure apprenticeship levy funds could be used to support short courses, and not just apprenticeship programmes. Labour’s recently published manifesto confirmed this via their policy where businesses would be able to use 50 per cent of funds provided to fund apprenticeships and training.

Right now, it’s no secret to say funds generated by the apprenticeship levy are greater than demand from employers to deliver vocational qualifications to new and existing staff – money goes unspent at the end of each year.

This is mostly because of the major employers whose investment in apprentices is unlikely to match up to the number of apprenticeships they provide. The idea, therefore, that levy funds could soon be used by SMEs and large enterprises to provide employees with short and sweet skill pills is an interesting one.

Some of the world’s great leaders will tell you every day is an education, and the requirement for individuals to enhance current skillsets and behaviours associated with their profession is ever-present. That’s regardless of a person’s experience or background.

The UK’s shortage of highly skilled workers has been well documented post-pandemic, with government figures stating over a third (35.5 per cent) of vacancies available at any given time are directly attributed to skills shortages.

Providing skills, knowledge and behaviours to those who need them is becoming increasingly important – which is where our work at Ignite Training becomes relevant to this column.

Not only are our apprenticeship standards delivered from Level 2 (intermediate) right up to Level 5 (foundation degree), but within each qualification are modules – skill pills – which can contribute to plugging gaps employers might encounter in their staff.

Modules such as emotional intelligence, finance and project management can serve a key purpose to those requiring that knowledge top-up through a properly structured two-day workshop.

It’s a case of providing staff – new and old – with a bitesize learning programme without the requirement for anyone to commit to a multi-year course. It’s an interesting concept, and one I personally would be interested to see develop should Labour come into power, or indeed the victorious party on July 4 adopt Labour’s pledge to open up the levy funds for this type of use .

Neville Algar, Ignite Training Head of Education.

About Ignite Training

Established in 1999, Ignite’s primary aim is to actively inspire people, and to help create a sense of achievement for everyone. Based in Oxford and operating nationally, we provide a portfolio of training and services to individuals, schools and the sports industry, ranging from weekly clubs for tots to adult courses and apprenticeships.

About Ignite Training