Assessment and apprenticeships: our retrospective on 2023

It’s safe to say that, after the end of another successful FAB conference in 2023, assessment organisations now have both eyes fixed on the new year.

It’s safe to say that, after the end of another successful FAB conference in 2023, assessment organisations now have both eyes fixed on the new year. 

However, we would not want to miss a chance to reflect on a year in which the skills and apprenticeship landscape has developed far more quickly than anyone could have predicted, including us. 

So, if you are curious to see what our view on the year’s big stories is, read our summary of the events and headlines that we believe have defined the apprenticeship world in 2023 – and get a glimpse of what we expect will make 2024 even more exciting. 

Apprenticeships – a tale of two statistics 

At the start of the year, we reflected on a major issue that has been increasingly affecting apprenticeships since before the COVID-19 pandemic – apprenticeship drop-out. 

By the end of 2022, almost half of all apprentices (47%) were dropping out of their courses. It was a discouraging situation, despite a steady increase in apprentice starts over previous years. 

Without any exaggeration, apprentice drop-out is a net negative for everyone. Apprentices face uncertain futures, employers lose potential talent and lishaevy funds, and funding for AOs and Training Providers (dependent on those apprentices ‘sticking the course’) is put in jeopardy. 

However, this year, despite slightly fewer starts than last year (275,630 in 2022/23 vs 288,000 in 2021/22), 20% more apprentices have completed their courses. 

Whatever the reasons (such as improved apprenticeship delivery or the security of apprenticeships in uncertain economic conditions), it’s only positive that more apprentices are seeing their courses through to the end. 

The Degree-Apprenticeship Shift 

Another trend long in the making (and one which sped up in 2023) was a steady closing of the gap between university degrees and apprenticeships. 

Research by Eon suggests that, currently, 60% of school leavers are considering apprenticeships or going directly into work instead of choosing university. 

While difficult economic conditions have a part to play (making ‘earn as you learn’ even more appealing, especially to school leavers) credit must be given to industry and government who have collaborated to improve the reputation of apprenticeships and create pathways to careers formerly ‘locked’ by university degrees. 

In this year alone, we have seen UCAS embrace apprenticeship options alongside university degrees, IfATE formalising mandatory qualifications to improve employment outcomes for apprentices, and a ‘crackdown’ on so-called ‘low-value university degrees’. 

Now, the degree-apprenticeship programme is making careers as diverse as doctors, solicitors, geoscientists and even space engineers attainable for a much wider pool of talent. 

We analysed the degree-apprenticeship shift in depth and reflect on what AOs must do to meet the needs of a greater number of ambitious apprentices. 

A mixed year for training providers 

2023 also proved to be challenging for several training providers. Though many flourished as more apprentices completed their courses, the news cycle was dominated by high-profile training provider redundancies. 

Some of these revealed the weaknesses of the current financial model for skills training, where suboptimal allocations for traineeships, stagnant funding bands and more competition for less funding forced many providers into administration through no fault of their own. 

However, the year also saw a number of independent training providers emerge, showing the resilience and determination of the sector. 

Fundamentally, those that survived weren’t just on the right side of the funding equation, but were made even more resilient by providing a better quality of delivery than their competitors. 

It’s a reminder that, while there are political and economic circumstances that we can’t control, all stakeholders (not just providers) must prioritise the quality of course delivery to ensure that they have the confidence of their partners. 

(We analysed this situation in detail earlier this year.) 

Plugging the skills gaps 

Apprenticeships aren’t just opening up career opportunities previously open only to university students. Throughout 2023, they have found a place at the heart of the skills strategies posed by both the opposition and the incumbent government. 

It’s not hard to see why. When faced with skills shortages in fields as diverse as tech, hospitality, travel and care, apprentices are perfectly positioned to upskill and meet the needs of these industries. 

Industry leaders have responded well to the situation, with employers such as Jet2 contributing towards apprenticeship programmes, and training providers such as Lifetime Training Academy taking the initiative by setting up their own dedicated chef academy. 

However, with 78% of small firms struggling to recruit in the past 12 months, and the predicted cost of skills shortages to the UK economy standing at £120B, the assessment industry and figures in government have a significant challenge ahead to attract, retain and upskill apprentices in these fields. 

What has changed at Skilltech? 

If you are an epaPRO user, or have just recently discovered Skilltech, there has never been a more exciting time to be part of the Skilltech family. 

With the imminent launch of a game-changing assessment platform within epaPRO (developed in partnership with risr/), the revamped apprentice dashboard, and events bringing our community together at events such as FAB 2023, the Construction Apprenticeship Awards and AAC... we have brought stakeholders closer together and helped them achieve more for their apprentices by being part of our community. 

With new partners joining from diverse fields, we also expect – as has always been the case - that features and customisations they suggest to meet their needs will result in exciting changes to the platform that benefit all of our users. 

Lastly, as the apprenticeship, awarding and assessment sectors are gearing up for a very busy 2024, we have also onboarded more expert staff to ensure that your experience of our platform and the support we provide continues to meet your high standards. 

Speaking of 2024... 

Looking ahead to 2024 

In 2024, we can expect a similar pattern to 2023 – which means to say, sweeping changes to the apprenticeship landscape. 

For example, we can say with more certainty that degrees and apprenticeships will continue to become closer to one another in prestige under new UCAS leadership (in the form of former Ofqual Chief Regulator, Jo Sazton). 

However, what is less certain is just how extensive the changes to the wider skills and training landscape will be following the next election. 

For instance, Labour’s suggestions to transform the apprenticeship levy into a more general ‘skills and training levy’ suggests short-course and skills bootcamps may enter the mix alongside apprenticeships more rapidly than previously thought. 

Meanwhile, Conservative hints at tax relief for employers hiring apprenticeships suggest that there may be alternative funding arrangements to fuel skills growth. 

In either case, AOs will have to be attuned to changes to ensure that their current offers – in apprenticeships and beyond – to meet the demand of the ever-evolving market for skills. 

At Skilltech, we are excited and optimistic about 2024. For existing partners using epaPRO – and those we hope to welcome - we are ambitious to release new integrations and features that will make their whole range of assessments simpler and more streamlined to deliver than ever before. 

If you have any questions about our universal EPA management solution, epaPRO, visit our dedicated page to learn more, or call us to arrange a demo if you are ready to see the impact that epaPRO can have for your apprenticeship delivery.

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