New apprenticeship rules affecting dispensing assistant training in England make significant changes to the way employers pay for, and manage their apprentice employees, delegates at the 2017 DDA annual conference will hear.
Thanks to new funding apprenticeship funding arrangements, coming into effect from 1 May, the government (Employment Skills and Funding Agency) has committed to covering 90 per cent of the cost of funding an eligible apprentice, leaving employers (with a payroll under £3 million/year) to pay for the remaining 10 per cent. For most pharmacy services qualifications, this will reduce the cost to the employer, particularly when training senior dispensers. However, overall, the ESFA training budget is under pressure, warns Buttercups’ spokesman Nick Marler, and employers should get in early to ensure they benefit from the subsidy. GPs may find themselves in a ‘first come, first served’ situation, says Mr Marler.
The new rules also bring in new incentives for hiring 16 – 18 year olds; this could equate to a £1000 government payment, paid in two parts to the employer via the training provider. However, safeguarding provisions apply for this age group.
Other changes are that the ‘prior qualifications rule’ has been relaxed: eligible candidates now include those with prior qualifications (even level 4 (degree) or higher), providing the prior qualification is “materially different” from pharmacy services. This may allow GP employers to consider retraining existing members of staff as possible apprenticeship candidates.
However, the new rules also shift the emphasis of an apprenticeship from ‘a temporary training arrangement’ to the ‘beginning of a career with the employer’. Buttercups’ Nick Marler explains that this places more responsibility on the employer to see the apprentice as a long-term commitment. He says: “The apprentice should remain with you… where this is not possible, the employer and the provider must support the apprentice to seek alternative opportunities”. Mr Marler says that the new rules effectively end fixed-term contracts for apprentices.
Another change is that apprentices will need to spend at least 20 per cent of their paid working hours (one day per week) on off-the-job training. Off-the-job training can be covered by online learning, practical training through shadowing and mentoring, including at other practices, and time spent writing assessments and assignments. Employers are urged to think how best to make use of this study time, which they should see as enhancing the professional relationship between employer and apprentice, reducing staff attrition.
Bigger companies – those with payrolls of more than £3 million per year – will now be expected to pay into an apprenticeship levy. Bigger pharmacy chains will be among those to pay the levy; in an effort to maximise the return on this payment, the pharmacy multiples may use this money to enhance their apprenticeship offer – potentially retraining dispensers into registered pharmacy technicians or into business managers, for example. This may impact on the available dispenser ‘pool’ also used by dispensing practices.
The apprenticeship levy is a UK policy, and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also implementing the levy. The devolved administrations can decide how levy cash is spent in their areas.
Come and hear the latest from Buttercups managing director Vanessa Kingsbury, who is speaking at the DDA 2017 annual conference at the NEC Birmingham on Thursday 19 October.
For more information:
Apprenticeship funding and performance management rules 2017-18
Buttercups news [online]: Making the levy work for you