Several industries where project-based employment is the norm have struggled more than most to comply with the 12-month minimum apprenticeships rule, but their fortunes could be about to change.  Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced in last week’s Budget a £7 million fund to run so-called “portable” or “flexi-job” apprenticeships in sectors such as creative and construction.

This “new approach” will involve organisations applying for money to start new agencies which employ apprentices and place them with multiple employers.  It is targeted at those industries that cannot offer a long-enough placement with a single employer for apprentices to meet the government’s minimum 12-month duration requirement.  In the TV and film sector, for example, most roles are freelance and usually only run for two to three months.

The flexi-job model was lauded by prime minister Boris Johnson during a speech on adult skills last year, after a meeting between ministers and his influential skills advisor Professor Alison Wolf decided the government should press ahead with its introduction.  It also featured briefly in this year’s Further Education white paper.

The scheme will become the third agency-type model for apprenticeships, following Apprenticeship Training Agencies (ATAs) and Group Training Associations (GTAs), which have been established for many years but have arguably become neglected by policymakers.  The Department for Education, which is responsible for the scheme, has promised a consultation on the proposals.

Levy problems ‘particularly stark’ for construction sectors supported by LOSC

Flexi-job apprenticeships are being specifically targeted at industries and sectors where work is often patchy.  Workers in the finishes and interiors sector, for example, who are finishing off one high-end contract will often wait weeks before starting on the next contract.

FIS has discussed and draw attention to the problems the sector faces in labour shortages and these are “not unique, but it is particularly stark”.  About 40 per cent of finishes and interior sector workers are LOSC, and it is only “if you’re lucky that your jobs will join up, whereas when you’re an apprentice, you have to have a minimum 18 month contract with one employer.  So, you can’t move around.

This issue has led to reports of a serious underspend of the apprenticeship levy.  With the restrictions on training during 2020 it is unlikely employers in the finishes and interiors sector have seen a return on the apprenticeship levy they have paid.

CITB runs its own Shared Apprenticeship Scheme which has supported 300 apprentices so far.  CITB have stated to their credit, the government has recognised the problem and is acting to help the construction industry utilise apprenticeships more easily.

The Skills for Jobs white paper, published in January 2021, acknowledged that creative and construction face “barriers in making full use of apprenticeships,” due to their “varied and flexible employment patterns”.

It added that “sectoral apprenticeship agencies may offer one solution, giving constant employment to an individual during the life of their apprenticeship which allows them to move between work placements and continue their training”.