Practices do need to bear in mind that there are limitations on the way that the funds are used. For example, the funds cannot cover ancillary costs, such as travel and administrative costs, and they cannot be used towards an apprentice's wages. Furthermore, 20% of the apprentice’s working time must be on 'off the job training' – effectively making them unavailable to their employer during this time.
An apprentice must be employed for more than 16 hours per week (including the 'off the job' training time), and they should have the same conditions and employment rights of other employees, such as holiday pay, sick pay, childcare voucher schemes etc.
Apprenticeship training does not just apply to brand new employees, it can be used to re-train existing employees. It also covers a very wide range of training. Although there may be an assumption that apprenticeship training is only suited to individuals who have come straight out of school with little in the way of academic qualifications, this does not necessarily apply. For example, for aspiring legal professionals, there are apprentice training routes available for full solicitor qualification such as the SRA's Trailblazer scheme which was introduced in 2016. This is perhaps surprising for practices that may have assumed apprentice schemes were more suited to paralegal, support staff or administrative type roles.
For accountants (as well as practices that employ finance staff), there is a wide range of apprenticeship training available, covering training for cashiers, accounts assistants and credit control clerks, to professional qualifications such as the Accounting Technician qualification. This is worth bearing in mind for all types of practice, not just accountants, and in fact may be better suited to practices for whom the accounts function is a support, rather than core, service.
There are far too many work areas that are covered by qualifying apprenticeship schemes to list here, but employers can review the up-to-date list of eligible training [pdf].
Some professional qualifications, such as Actuary, are not currently covered by the scheme, while more traditionally 'vocational' qualifications, such as Actuarial Technician, are covered.
Where employees were already undergoing some form of training prior to the new levy scheme coming into effect, they are not necessarily excluded from starting an apprenticeship scheme. However, the government expects employers to take prior learning into account when negotiating prices and agreeing course content with course providers as there is a requirement that levy funds are not used to pay for skills already acquired by the apprentice.
The amount of funding available depends on the level of apprenticeship. So, for example, an individual looking to train as a solicitor will be eligible for a larger amount of funding than an individual looking to train as a Legal Executive. The bands range from total funding of £1,500 to £27,000, with the employer being solely responsible for funding above the cap.
Employers need to bear in mind that there are special rules concerning 'connected companies', and these impact on the way that the £15,000 levy allowance is shared between connected entities. Connected companies have to share the allowance (that is, they do not get a £15,000 allowance each) but they can share it in any proportion they wish. However, these proportions can only be decided once in every tax year, and so it is important that affected employers think carefully about how to calculate the split.
In terms of cost, this new method for funding apprenticeships may work out to be more expensive for employers than the current situation, and significantly more so for employers of a reasonable size that do not normally use apprentices, as they will be paying into a pot that they may not fully use.
However, because of the 10% 'top up' payment from the government, there are also opportunities for those practices that embrace the scheme to get more out of it than they actually pay in. This is also true for employers that pay a relatively low amount into the scheme (or none at all) and are therefore eligible for 90% contributions from the government under the 'co-investment' rules.