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Written Statement - Aligning the apprenticeship model to the needs of the Welsh economy

Julie James, Minister for Skills and Science

Apprenticeships are essential for achieving economic success and a stronger, fairer Wales.

Raising skills levels to meet employer needs and the demands of existing and future markets helps to drive productivity, prosperity and more resilient communities.  Our investment in skills is an investment in the future of our country and of both our businesses and our people, which is why today I am publishing ’Aligning the Apprenticeship model to the needs of the Welsh economy.’

This policy document together with a five year action plan sets out how apprenticeships will support the Welsh Government’s aim to deliver more and better jobs for Wales through a stronger, fairer economy.

In drafting the policy we have drawn on evidence gathered from our stakeholder during  our consultation, which ensures we continue to address the key delivery areas.

Wales in the 21st Century is diverse and complex and our programmes need to respond accordingly.  We need to support people where they need it most, and equip services to respond to challenges, such as an ageing population, a changing climate, new technologies and globalisation.

The issues we face can only be tackled through new ways of working, including joined-up programmes which reinforce and build upon what people and communities are doing for themselves.  We have already commenced planning arrangements to mobilise Apprenticeships in support of commitments outlined in Taking Wales Forward and will be providing apprenticeships in areas such as: housing, digital and physical infrastructure, childcare, energy, health and social care.  Apprenticeships will also provide assistance to help reform the skills of the Welsh public sector, to help build a united, connected and more sustainable Wales.

Apprenticeships, together with our new Employability Programme will support individuals of all ages to get the skills they need to enter the labour market and, importantly, progress through it into higher skilled work.  This is part of our commitment as a Welsh Government to creating better jobs closer to home.  As a government we are committed to developing a culture in Wales where recruiting an apprentice becomes the norm for employers, giving individuals access to high quality job opportunities and skills.  We will be starting our work on this across the Valleys Taskforce area.

The policy highlights our intention to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, which will require higher levels of competence than in the past. It also contains a stronger focus on both technical and professional skills needed to facilitate high quality employment opportunities within local communities throughout Wales.   This will send a strong message about the value of apprenticeships and technical education in supporting people into sustainable employment and self-employment.

The policy also takes into account the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy  a UK Government employment tax which is due to come into effect on 6 April 2017.

We have said all along that this Levy directly conflicts with areas of devolved responsibility, completely overlooks and undermines our very distinctive approach to supporting apprenticeships in Wales and its introduction means that no new significant money is coming to Wales.

Understandably, employers are keen to understand how this levy will be managed in Wales and what benefits it might offer to their businesses.  To help minimise the impact of the Levy in Wales we are taking a different approach to our counterparts in England one which is better aligned to and supports the growing needs of Wales, its people and economy.  We have worked closely with our social partners to develop the apprenticeship programme that meets the needs of both levy and non-levy paying employers and ensure that apprenticeship places are readily available in priority areas through our apprenticeship provider network.

We have also worked with employers to develop a toolkit which sits alongside our apprenticeship policy to assist employers wanting to access support from the levy and we are actively encouraging employers to come forward and recruit through our apprenticeship programme in technical and professional areas, through a series of marketing and communication events.

We recognise that the whole apprenticeship system must be more flexible and responsive to the ever and more rapidly changing need of industry.  We intend to use the Wales Employment and Skills Board as the vehicle to assist us with new apprenticeship developments.  Where employers will have the voice to influence the design of the learning they receive through the apprenticeship programme.

Our policy presents challenges and opportunities – all-age provision, the expansion of higher level skills and greater employer engagement in specific areas of the economy.  I encourage employers, providers and supporting bodies to work together to create a stronger apprenticeship programme and to help us provide the next generation of quality apprentices needed for economic prosperity and a more equal Wales.

To deliver these priorities the Welsh Government will be increasing its investment in apprenticeships from £96m to £111.5m for 2017-18.  This brings our total investment in apprenticeships and traineeships in 2017-18 to over £126m.  Of the additional funding, £15.5m will be invested to ensure that both public and private sector employers are not disadvantaged as a result of the Apprenticeship Levy.

Public services are essential to maintain functions related to education, fire services, waste management, social services and healthcare.  We will work with public sector organisations to create a range of public service workforce programmes this will help with modernisation, efficiencies and improvements required across the sector; through the application of improved workforce skills.  This will include the publication of specific apprenticeship plans for Local Authorities, the NHS and the ‘blue light’ services.

Links to the documents can be accessed via the links below.  
http://gov.wales/topics/educationandskills/skillsandtraining/apprenticeships/apprenticeships-skills-policy-plan/?lang=en