Apprenticeship reforms: The Impact of Apprenticeship Standards

The Impact of Apprenticeship Standards

2020 is a true milestone in apprenticeship reform. On the 31st of July 2020, the last apprenticeship frameworks will be withdrawn and replaced with apprenticeship standards for the 2020/21 academic year. It marks the end of a significant transition period lasting several years, within which we’ve seen intensive reform to the sector, starting with the Apprenticeship reforms of 2017.

Apprenticeships have changed. Here Lifetime Training’s Quality Director Angela Maguire-Lewis explores the case for reform, the benefits and challenges of the changes, and what the future may hold as standards settle.

Embracing the change

Lifetime was an early adopter of apprenticeship standards. In 2017/18, 65% of all Lifetime apprenticeship starts were on standards, in comparison to 37% of starts for other training providers. The figure rose to 78% of all starts for Lifetime in 2018/19.
This means we’ve been one of the first providers to take learners through the full learner journey to successful completion through End-point Assessment. With the apprenticeship reforms every aspect of the learner journey has been reviewed. Updates include brand new procedures and processes for employer engagement, learner recruitment, and brand-new curriculum design.
Because of this we’re well placed to review the changes and explore the challenges and benefits of the in-depth reforms the sector has been through.

The case for apprenticeship reform

The baseline reasons for apprenticeship reforms were outlined  in the Richard Review of Apprenticeships 2012. Apprenticeship framework assessment methods were not seen as robust enough as they lacked consistency and independence. In many cases learners did not develop skills that met employer needs. Employers saw the skills as out of date. Apprenticeships were made up of vocational qualifications which were at risk of being seen as second-class qualifications.

In 2015 the government introduced their Vision for 2020 document which outlined the aims and agenda of the apprenticeship reforms. 3 million new apprenticeship starts by 2020, apprenticeships for all levels across all sectors, parity between academic and vocational courses, and higher-quality programmes driven by employers. Additionally, apprenticeships were positioned to be the vehicle for improving the UK’s skill gaps across all industries.

To achieve this vision, significant changes to programmes and funding were required. 

How have apprenticeship reforms changed the apprenticeship landscape?

From key changes to funding through the apprenticeship levy to new apprenticeship standards, the landscape has shifted considerably in a few short years. Here we explore the ways new apprenticeships have shifted with the move from apprenticeship frameworks to standards.

An important backdrop to the apprenticeship standards reforms was significant changes to apprenticeship funding rules in the form of the apprenticeship levy. Historically apprenticeships were funded directly by the government through the skills budget but this switched to employer funding via a levy on payrolls over £3 million.

Many larger employers are now invested in apprenticeship training since the apprenticeship funding rules changed. For employers with payrolls under £3 million the process of co-investment means paying 5% of programme costs.

Greater flexibility has been introduced throughout the reforms, with employers now able to transfer up to 25% of their annual levy to another company.  Lifetime has also started to see many larger employers investing beyond their levy funds.

Many parts of the reform are aimed to improve programme quality. Employer input has resulted in more bespoke pathways to match different job roles to a current industry standard, which means skills are aligned to current working practices. There’s now a dedicated regulator in the form of the Institute of Apprenticeships who must approve initial sign-off for new standards, ensuring programmes are properly scrutinised.

The introduction of an End-point Assessment is a key element of quality control, as each learner must prove competency to an independent external assessor. This results in a much more robust assessment process than frameworks. There’s also much more engagement with the employer to sign-off the gateway to End-point Assessment.

The first full year of standards saw 99% of Lifetime learners pass their End-point Assessment. 52% of Lifetime learners achieved a merit or distinction.

The introduction of the new Education Inspection Framework in September 2019 has led to further improvements in quality and skills provision. It provides a clear link between Intent, Implementation and Impact to ensure apprentices have relevant skills for the industries in which they work.

The increased focus on the welfare and development of our staff guarantees that the apprentices receive the best teaching and training experience. The emphasis on career progression and next steps is also welcomed as it ensures our apprentices have sustainable employment opportunities in the future.

Apprenticeships have now been recognised by most employers as a key driver in learning and development strategies. This is particularly important as retention rates are generally higher with apprentices than the non-apprentice population. 80% of companies with apprentices reported an improvement in employee retention rates according to a report by the Skills Funding Agency.

As a result, employers now take a very active role with apprenticeship training providers and act as close partners in training. Employers are invested, and even beyond the trailblazers there’s real interest in quality of provision and programmes.

This has led to Lifetime developing dedicated training teams across larger employers, which wasn’t necessarily a defined function before. This approach has proven very successful and is being rolled out to multiple large employers.

“McDonald’s have a long and successful history with apprenticeships offering 18,500 of our employees the chance to gain practical experience, new skills and nationally recognised qualifications - all while earning.
Nevertheless, the introduction of the Levy provided a fitting backdrop for internal reflection. The outcome was we must provide a better learning experience for our apprentices.
Having a partner in Lifetime who shares our values has been integral to success. When I look at what we have achieved together, I am truly proud of our accomplishments so far.”

Craig Ryan, Apprenticeship Manager - McDonald’s UK

Frameworks generally meant learners completed a collection of separation qualifications, with no overall test to prove competency. Standards have changed this. Although standards within care, fitness and early years have retained diplomas when required by industry, most new apprenticeships focus on outcomes and behaviours instead of qualifications.

This means learners are tested in End-point Assessment to ensure they’re fully competent. By completing an apprenticeship, learners are achieving a recognised industry standard in their role.

The introduction of mandatory 20% off-the-job training for apprentices gives the learner dedicated time to properly develop skills from the programme. It is a requirement for all apprenticeships and sees apprentices spending at least 20% of their time completing off-the-job training.

This caused a degree of confusion when first introduced, which is why Lifetime have worked to inform employers and identify relevant activities.

Business benefits of apprenticeship standards for employers

With the advent of the levy, apprenticeships are an investment in an employer’s workforce more than ever. As with any investment, there’s been significant work to define and achieve financial and non-financial returns.

In many cases apprenticeships have enhanced established Learning and Development offerings. Employers are mapping apprenticeships to every role within their business, providing a sustainable talent pipeline. Learners can move form Level 2 to Level 4 and beyond across all job roles, with a pathway from Team Member to General Manager through apprenticeships.

By mapping apprenticeships to career progression, employers are attracting young talent looking for a career instead of a job. Lifetime has worked with a large hospitality company to explore apprenticeship return on investment by comparing teams with and without an apprentice. We found that teams with an apprentice achieved:

  • 20% more sales
  • 25% less labour turnover
  • 28% less waste
  • 37% less team absence
  • 10% better customer feedback

Sustainable employment

Employers that have wholeheartedly adopted apprenticeships within their learning and development methods which has resulted in higher retention rates. Apprentices are much more likely to stay within a role, even within industries which have notorious problems in team retention. A group of large Pub Companies partnered with Lifetime have an average team attrition rate of 84%, compared to 39% for apprentices.

Learners gain a sense of progression and development through an apprenticeship, which is a key factor in retaining employees. A destination survey found that 91% of our learners continued in employment and gained additional responsibilities or promotion as a result of their programme.

A recent Lifetime learner survey (2,401 respondents) demonstrates the positive impact of this approach:

  • 80% say the Apprenticeship helped their career
  • 48% have been promoted or taken on additional responsibility
  • 38% are earning a higher salary

My apprenticeship has been essential for my career development to work in Health and Social Care. I have progressed from a Support Worker, to Team Leader and now Service Manager. To enable this journey, I have completed my Level 2, 3 and recently Advanced Level 5 qualification.
It has broadened my career opportunities within the company, and this involves working with other managers to develop and enhance the quality of service provided for people being supported.


Nikki Elliot, Health and Social Care Leadership and Management Level 5, Lifeways Group

Business projects drive real improvements

The inclusion of business projects within certain higher apprenticeships bring direct benefits to businesses. Learners spend a dedicated part of the programme developing a project which improves a process or function within the company. With input from managers, learners can position their projects to bring about real change in the company. Many projects (within advanced apprenticeships) lead to improvements in the wider business as a result.

Attracting young apprentices bring bonuses

These are real incentives to bringing in young apprentices to develop future talent and fill skill gaps. Employers receive a £1,000 government bonus for each apprentice aged 16 to 18. Smaller companies of less than 50 employees can get fully funded training for these young apprentices.

Young or inexperienced apprentices may need more training or oversight, so these incentives help to offset these costs.


Apprentices are a key part of our People Strategy, we see apprenticeships as a positive approach to addressing skills shortage issues we face, and we are extremely pleased with the progress we have made over the last year.
Lifetime Training have been pivotal in supporting us to address our recruitment and retention challenges and our focus on volume pub roles to increase retention & improve stability has seen the number of new apprentices joining us triple!
We have also focused on critical and hard to fill roles and have increased our chef apprentices by 20%, which in turn supports retention and succession.


Jo Bradford, Group Apprenticeship Manager, Marston’s Plc

Solving the UK’s skills gap

It’s clear that apprenticeship standards will play a key role in improving skills in the UK. The benefits of apprenticeships can have an impact on both businesses and the UK skills gap.

What we’re seeing more of is the use of standards as a sustainable employment pipeline creating real careers.  Every year our recruitment team recruit nearly 5,000 apprentices for employer partners across our sectors. Employers are acting proactively to solve skills gaps within their sector using apprenticeships that help learners reach industry-set skill standards.

Many new apprentices have no previous qualifications. Achieving the programme is a huge achievement, and where applicable the Functional Skills upskilling improves their academic profile.

The fact that these apprentices can grow and progress up to degree level shows how new apprenticeships are an opportunity for a lifelong journey.


Lifetime Training has been instrumental with the engagement and roll out of the new apprenticeship standards.
Lifetime’s professionalism, support and expertise is hugely valued by KFC; and now enables us to offer hospitality apprenticeships aligned to our internal career path; taking you from a team member through to a restaurant manager.


Emily Crouch - Restaurant Training & Education Manager, KFC

Challenges of new apprenticeship standards

With any large-scale curriculum shift comes challenges. The apprenticeship landscape has been heavily reformed over the last few years, and the apprenticeship sector has had to adapt. Here are the main challenges of standards reform.

Some employers have been reluctant to make the switch to standards. In some cases, larger companies which were paying the apprenticeship levy were reluctant to use it and had written it off as an additional tax.

These employers may have had negative experience in the past with apprenticeships when there was not the same quality assurances in place. This is where the importance of educating and informing employers on the merits of apprenticeship standards is important.

Apprenticeship funding changes has also meant the funding is employer led and not learner led, which was the case before. This has led to an increase number of apprentices unable to continue with their programme if they change employer.

Certain standards have taken longer to develop, for a variety of reasons. Different sectors have different priorities with training, so it takes time to make sure programmes capture the right skills across diverse industries. In sectors such as Childcare, long-term discussions around GCSE requirements for the Early Educator Level 3 slowed its development down considerably.

However, as we approach the 2020 cut off point all major standards will have been successfully launched.

Assessment guidance has changed in flight multiple times over the last few years. This has meant changes to guidance and resources whilst the learner is on programme. We’ve worked closely with external stakeholders such as trailblazer groups, employers and awarding organisations to adapt resources and respond to changes. Now that reforms are beginning to settle, such disruptive changes become less likely.

Despite the change, learners have adapted well to the addition of End-point Assessments with high levels of success, maintaining a pass rate of 99% in the first full year.

Managing learners within End-point Assessment

During the transition period we’ve learned so much about putting assessment plans into practice and the process of End-point Assessment. Lifetime has now created the EPA Pro tool to streamline End-point Assessment, making the process simple for learners and employers.

Some apprenticeship frameworks have no direct replacement from new standards. An example is the Business Admin Level 2 framework, which will not have a direct standards replacement. The Institute for Apprenticeships rejected the proposals for a standard as there were fears of too much overlap with the Level 3 standard. Therefore, the industry has had to look for suitable replacements.

Through the process of co-investment non levy paying employers must share the cost of the apprenticeship training. This is currently at 5% of programme costs (it had been 10% prior to April 2019). There are mitigating incentives such as full funding for young apprentices for SMEs.

Though we’ve seen a large proportion of SMEs move to standards, the sharing of costs was a big shift in policy.

The future of apprenticeship standards

As a sector we’ve been through one of the biggest curriculum changes for years. From Lifetime’s perspective, every part of the company was changed and adapted to ensure we can successfully delivery standards for our learners. Every aspect of the learner journey redeveloped; the whole curriculum rebuilt.

Now as the sector settles in 2020, we can start to see the real benefits.

The principle design of standards will remain, but we can now refine assessment plans and actively engage and consult with employers. Standards have become fully embedded in the learning and development strategies of employers across the UK to the benefit of learners.

Now is the time to work closely with employers and the Institute for Apprenticeships to further apprenticeships. We’ve seen a huge amount of interaction and engagement from employers, and this partnership will only grow closer to the benefit of the UK skills landscape.


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