Written on: 18 August 2016
Written by: Amanda McCombie
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noun: trailblazer; plural noun: trailblazers; noun: trail-blazer; plural noun: trail-blazers
Apprenticeships are massively successful and provide great opportunities to both employers and apprentices. For apprentices, it starts them on the path to a successful career without limits and is an excellent alternative to going to University as an apprentice will gain skills, experience, qualifications and best of benefit from a salary. Apprentices can also progress into higher education, which is great news, for many this means degree’s without the debt, real world experience and the support of an employer. Employers get a low-cost, low-risk way to bring new talent into their business and also a highly effective way of developing the skills of their future workforce with the added benefit of government funding to cover the costs of training.
The government intend to grow the number of apprenticeships in our country with ambitions to reach 3 million starts in 2020.
In 2012 the government commissioned an independent review of apprenticeship programmes in England. ‘The Richard Review’ identified there were key areas where significant improvements were required in order to make apprenticeships more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers. This, in turn, would increase the quality of apprenticeship programmes, making them much more valuable and beneficial to employers.
The aims were to:
Put employers in the driving seat
Increase the quality of apprenticeships
Simplify the system
Give employers purchasing power.
The Trailblazer standards will be replacing the existing apprenticeship frameworks. These new standards are written definitions of the skills, knowledge and behaviours an apprentice must demonstrate within their job role.
The Trailblazers are a group of employers who have developed the new apprenticeship standards, these are written for specific job roles within each sector. The trailblazers are experts in their field.
Baltic Training have always been committed to quality, customer excellence and making a real difference to society. We are a trusted and positive organisation who partner with employers to create apprenticeship opportunities within the digital sector and are unreservedly focused on driving a positive change in the way that businesses recruit and train their employees.
In 2014 Baltic Training Services were one of few providers to proudly achieve Tech Industry Gold status, a highly prestigious accolade which celebrates and accredits high-quality training within the digital sector. Our unique delivery model and our technical training programmes were independently assessed by a board of representatives from some of the world’s leading IT firms along with the sector skills council for IT, The Tech Partnership.
In achieving this status, the employer board and The Tech Partnership endorsed our programme, which corroborated that everything we deliver meets employer-relevant standards, approving Baltic apprenticeships to be ‘Trailblazer Standard Ready.’
The team behind the technical programmes delivered by Baltic are exceptionally proud of what they have created. We pride ourselves on being a leading provider and ensuring that our programmes deliver much more than ‘an apprenticeship.’
An apprenticeship framework in the current format has a blueprint, it must contain a knowledge qualification, a competency qualification and also functional skills in Maths, English and ICT for apprentices who have not achieved the appropriate grades at school.
The IT Professional Level 3 is made up of the following:
Level 3 Diploma in Systems and Principles (Knowledge and Theory)
Level 3 Diploma in ICT Professional Competence (Competency)
Over the last 6 years, Baltic have been very fortunate in partnering with some of the very best digital companies across England and Scotland. We work with our partners to create new opportunities for entry level staff and have successfully placed over 3000 young people into job roles. What is especially rewarding about this achievement, is that 94% of our apprentice graduates have progressed into full-time, sustainable employment.
From the beginning, our vision was always to ensure our programmes and training delivered long-term benefits for our partners and their apprentices. We wanted to ensure all our apprentices had every opportunity to excel in work, education and everyday life. This is why we enhanced all of our programmes from the start including additional qualifications and training as part of our delivery. This is something we received no additional funding for, nor did we charge a commercial fee to our partners. The reason we did this is because we needed to make sure our programme was of value to an employer and also because it determined long term career prospects and success for every Baltic apprentice.
Providing a great programme, meant that more employers would benefit and in turn take on more apprentices. It has been said on a number occasions by partners that we are ‘ahead of our time.’ A Poor provision that did not deliver a result that was not valued was never an option for us. Baltic where delivering ‘trailblazer standards’ long before the Richard review.
In addition to the funded apprenticeship programme, we included up to £15,000 of vendor courses such as Windows 7/8/10 MCSA, Server 2012, CCNA, ComTia A+, Network +, Security + and ITIL. Sadly, as of February this year Level 3 IT was subject to a cut in funding, we responded by making modest adjustments to our programmes, however, we still maintained the offer of vendor courses in addition to the standard level 3 apprenticeship.
Being a Tech Industry Gold partner has meant that we have been involved with Trailblazer standards since their inception. Our view is that apprenticeship programmes have been reformed for all the right reasons. They ensure that employers are providing real opportunities for young people and not just bringing them into their business to ‘make the tea’ or ‘sweep the floor.’ They safeguard that apprentices will be skilled, experienced and have transferable skills which means they will make a genuine contribution to society and go on to do great things.
They also ensure that poor provision will not exist. Gone will be the days where funded training providers took advantage by delivering apprenticeships without actually delivering any training and merely ‘ticking a box’ or in some cases apprenticeships delivered and achieved without the apprentice ever having an actual job.
The new standards mandate that first of all employers must make a financial contribution towards their apprentices training costs and secondly, the assessment of every apprentice must be carried out objectively, in other words an external assessment organisation will assess the apprentice, grade them, decide if they are competent in their job role and award their apprenticeship. The end assessment mechanisms are currently in development and it’s anticipated they will be ready for April 2017, however, there are a number of unanswered questions and today there is no way of assessing an apprentice, for example, our most popular programme ‘Infrastructure Technician’ at level 3 will consist of 5 knowledge modules, we have been advised that our apprentices will be able to sit the exams online, however, the online tests are not currently available.
At the end of a trailblazer standard apprenticeship, apprentices will need to complete a ‘synoptic’ project. This will see the apprentice taking 5 days out of work to complete a practical assessment that will test the apprentice’s skills, knowledge and behaviours. The project will then be submitted to an assessment organisation who will pass or fail the apprentice. At present, there is very little information within the public domain regarding how this will be carried out in practice.
With recent changes to government and the politicians who were initially driving the apprenticeship reform agenda David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Boles are no longer is post there are a number of unanswered questions.
Where does that leave us? The simple answer is ‘We don’t know.’ Everything could change. Therefore, rather than risk our relationship with our much-valued partners, Baltic have made the decision to firstly pilot the new trailblazer standards programme, learning the lessons in a controlled environment rather than that rather than rush into delivering a programme that is not yet fully developed.
Baltic are massively supportive of the apprenticeship reforms and trailblazer standards, however, we are waiting for the appropriate systems and support to be in place before we proceed with the transition.
We can confirm that our current curriculum and apprentice programmes go above and beyond the learning objectives within the new Trailblazer standards. This means apprentices participating on a Baltic programme will develop all the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are set out in the new standards.
We are currently piloting the new system with a very select group of apprentices and employers who are happy to be supporting our pilot. Employers enrolling their apprentices onto a trailblazer standard must make a financial contribution towards their apprentice's training costs. Outside of our pilot however, no financial contribution is required for a Baltic apprentice aged between 16-18.