Principal Thoughts: Apprenticeship agenda must be allowed to flourish

Posted on: 2019-08-20

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. This month, Ashley reflects on personnel changes in government and makes the case for apprenticeships to remain high on the current leadership’s agenda.


Another week, another government, but what should be staying the same is the UK’s stance on apprenticeships.

The Spring Budget announced by Philip Hammond in March brought about a halving of the fee paid by small businesses (non-levy payers) when taking on apprentices and a rise in the maximum amount of levy funds which levy-payers can share across their supply chains from 10% to 25%.

This was a boost for those employers and education providers, like ourselves, who have invested so much into the government’s apprenticeship agenda. There was a feeling that the government was losing its grip on apprenticeships as it wrestled, and continues to wrestle, with Brexit and other associated issues deemed to be of higher importance.

The Budget announcement, however, assuaged those fears and was the fillip needed for apprenticeship stakeholders to feel confident in the agenda.

Imperfect but valuable

It’s not been plain sailing for apprenticeships since former Prime Minister, David Cameron, included a target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 in the Conservatives’ 2015 election manifesto.

That ambitious target over time has looked less and less achievable, culminating in former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds’s confirmation of its failure in June. Apprenticeship starts have failed to increase in the years since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy as their use has failed to galvanise employers and education providers to get involved in quite the way it was hoped for.

Those organisations who have got behind apprenticeships have experienced difficulties; my frustrations with aspects of delivering apprenticeships has been the theme of my Principal Thoughts blogs during National Apprenticeship Week for the past two years.

Yet, despite these difficulties, the intrinsic benefit of apprenticeships is there for all to see, whether as an apprentice, employer or education provider. The Institute of Student Employers recently published a report which saw employers say their engagement with apprenticeships is likely to grow. The same article advocated employers as drivers of apprenticeships which I fully agree with.

Employer-led apprenticeships

At UCEM, we work very closely with our employer partners in creating programmes which are suitable for graduates to use the practical skills and knowledge gained to make a difference in the Built Environment.

This extends to our ever-expanding suite of degree apprenticeship programmes with our Building Control apprenticeship soon to commence with its first intake, having been carefully developed with key employer partners in the profession.

Providing the expertise to enhance the careers of professionals to create a better Built Environment is at the heart of what we do and it’s crucial that our apprenticeship programmes are in keeping with the demands of the sector.


Proof of the impact our apprenticeships are having arrived in the 2018/19 ESFA Learner Survey where we received a satisfaction score of 81.6%.

There have been numerous apprentice success stories since we started offering apprenticeships in 2015. The two most recent examples of this saw two of our apprentices taking home the Most Promising Apprentice and Most Promising Trainee Quantity Surveyor accolades at the CECA (Southern) Awards 2019 and another apprentice shortlisted in the Construction category of the hotly contested Asian Apprenticeship Awards 2019.

Employers continue to positively engage with us and report on their satisfaction with our education delivery and this confidence in UCEM has helped the institution become the number 1 provider of surveying apprenticeships.

Carry on, apprentice-ing

With the benefits of apprenticeships abundantly clear, why would the government choose not to support them?

We now have a new Chancellor in charge of the Budget, a new Education Secretary and, indeed, a new Prime Minister but while the state of politics remains in perpetual flux, conviction in the power of apprenticeships and the realisation of three million apprenticeship starts (whenever that may be) should remain constant.

To Boris now and any politician soon to step into the political hot seat, I have one clear message: this is a critical asset for the future of UK productivity and economic strength – we need to enable and energise apprenticeships even more!

At UCEM, we are committed to contributing to a better Built Environment sector through excellence in online education. We deliver approved apprenticeship programmes, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. For more information take a look at our Study With UCEM page.

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