The Apprenticeship Levy is almost with us, and training providers have been gearing up for the big changes. One of the most interesting developments is the collaboration between Sussex Downs College and Sussex Coast College, who have created their own apprenticeship and training company, Sussex Skills Solutions. ACES Magazine asked Director, Stephen Burkes about the new company

Can you explain briefly the benefits for company thinking of using Sussex Skills Solutions (SSS)?

Sussex Skills Solutions offers the very best of the private and public sector. We understand the dynamics of our local employers and understand the commercial pressures they face. We access government funding wherever appropriate to support the training we offer, reducing the financial burden for our employer partners whilst ensuring any financial contribution is competitively priced and will deliver tangible measurable benefits. We also actively engage with the Local Enterprise Partnerships in Sussex to ensure we can advise on the political direction in terms of economic strategy, helping our employer partners stay ahead of the curve in terms of their long term planning. In the broadest terms Sussex Skills Solutions’ approach is driven by working collaboratively with our employer partners to grow their businesses via a range of services linked to recruitment and training and developing the Sussex economy.

Do you think all companies now understand the Apprenticeship Levy which is coming in very soon?

It really varies. I have personally been speaking with a large number of organisations across Sussex in relation to their levy planning and have seen those that have been very proactive in their approach and planning while I have also come across many who are still racing to get their planning in place in time for May 2017. One thing I have been very pleased to see is that in all my meetings, employers see the benefits that will come from these apprenticeship reforms and none have been writing off their levy contribution as a tax and not planning to use it.

How do you see the future of apprenticeship training evolving?

I think the apprenticeship reforms from May 2017 will change everything. Apprenticeships have always had a very strong brand identity with the public but the funding rules and limitations around the level you could study up to create a glass ceiling in terms of the real impact this qualification route way can offer.

Apprenticeships have always been an excellent vocational training methodology but they never offered the range and academic level to allow for real learning progression once you were in an established role. They were too focused on entry and junior level position training. Now those  restraints are being removed and people of any age can access the funding regardless of their prior qualifications. Employees can commit to a substantial meaningful study of a new or advanced subject related to their job role up to Masters level while staying in employment and earning their salary. This up-skilling of the workforce will accelerate with the support of forward thinking employers who will be able to see the value up-skilling their key staff as well as their junior and middle management staff offers to their business.

On the back of these changes I believe we are going to see a step change in the take up of apprenticeships in the next five years. We are going to see more and more companies and specifically the public sector, attracting recruits into their business by offering apprenticeship graduate programmes that offer ongoing apprenticeship training designed to progress individuals through all levels of their organisations.

How can companies get involved?

All companies regardless of scale should audit their existing work force skills and identify existing talent they wish to nurture and grow. They should take a long look at their recruitment strategy and internal training programmes and ensure they have been developed to link to long term goals rather than just meeting short term needs. Sussex Skills Solutions offers a free consultancy service to help with this process and offers advice and guidance on suitable apprenticeships and other training and recruitment services available to employers. There is no cost to this service, you just need to contact us and book an appointment.

What are the advantages using the combined assets of the two colleges compared to private sector training?

Firstly, I’d have to say our internal staff talent. Across the two colleges we have decades of expertise in apprenticeships covering a broad range of sectors and huge number of subjects.

Secondly, we have fantastic students that attend the colleges and are waiting to show the world what they can offer.

Other key advantages are that we already have the expertise in house to develop qualifications aligned to our employers’ needs and the resource to introduce new innovative ways to deliver the training to reduce the impact on employers and employees.

We can deal with scale for multi-site employers ensuring there is a consistent high quality responsive service which makes sure when you contact us you get a speedy response and accurate information first time.

Finally, as an added bonus, for those in Sussex, we are a non-profit organisation which keeps the money in Sussex and supports the local economy.

What was your background before joining SSS?

I have worked in Further Education for nearly 10 years, working my way up from my entry point as an Operations Manager of multi region sites for a private training provider, through to becoming a Chief Operating Officer for a team that acquired multiple private training providers. Each role I’ve taken has offered its own unique challenges and experiences but when the Sussex Skills Solutions opportunity presented itself I couldn’t resist. The combination of public sector resources with private sector drive and vision is still quite unique in the FE market place. Prior to FE I worked in music for around 10 years but that’s a different story.

Tel: 030 300 38241

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