UK MARITIME businesses are missing out on government funding for skills and training by taking a narrow view of apprenticeships, Maritime Skills Alliance secretary Iain Mackinnon has warned.

The government subsidy is open to all employees irrespective of age and experience, and is not restricted to young people at the start of their careers or new employees, he said.

“You don’t even need to call the people you support ‘apprentices’. Call them what you like. But if, for example, a shipping company has someone in their team who is coming ashore and they want them properly prepared for a second career as a manager, they could put them on a management apprenticeship, perhaps one based on a degree, and use their levy pot to pay for it.”

The apprenticeship levy came into force on April 6 and introduced a tax on companies with an annual payroll bill of more than £3m ($3.73m). These companies get an extra 10p from the government for every £1 they pay in tax, which they can only spend on apprenticeship-based training.

Companies not paying the levy will be eligible to receive a 90% contribution from the government towards the training costs associated with a higher or degree level apprenticeship.

Some basic level apprenticeship programmes can average £2,000 per qualification, according to David Lynch, managing director of the Bis Henderson Academy.

At the other end of the spectrum, Masters-level degree apprenticeships tend to have a cost of £27,000, says Liverpool-based Maritime SuperSkills Project manager Diane Fitch.

Some employers have complained that the apprenticeship levy comes with a 0.5% increase in costs. Although there are rules and requirements to be met, if companies look at it as a monetary source for long-term career programmes the benefits outweigh the costs, says Mr Mackinnon.

Out with the old and in with the trailblazing

Employers must convert existing training schemes, or create new ones, that meet the standards set out in the apprenticeship levy by 2020 to receive this government funding.

“The government wants employers to be at the centre of the process for designing and delivering apprenticeships,” says an Institute of Apprenticeships ‘how to’ guide for trailblazers.

“This is why apprenticeship standards are designed by groups of employers, known as trailblazers, to meet their own skills needs, those of their broader sector and of the economy more widely.”

Required in the standards are the level, skill and behaviours necessary for a role and 20% structured off-the-job training for at least 12 months relating to a specific occupation, such as port operations.

But with employers already having to run businesses, the arduous work involved in creating standards is not particularly appealing.

The Maritime SuperSkills Project was set up in August 2016 to help employers with this task. Funded by the European Social Fund, the project is the development of a pipeline for maritime apprenticeship standards for the engineering and logistics sectors.
Although the project focuses on the needs of employers in the Liverpool city region, it will produce standards of national relevance to the maritime sector, says Ms Fitch.

“Employers committed to training their workforce through apprenticeship programmes end up with a loyal and motivated workforce, making the investment worthwhile in the long term,” adds Ms Fitch.

The Maritime SuperSkills Project has partnered with Liverpool John Moores University, local employer group Mersey Maritime and local colleges; Hugh Baird College (Port Academy Liverpool), Wirral Metropolitan College, The Engineering College and Northern Logistics Academy.

The Maritime Skills Alliance is a not-for-profit company, funded by its 18 members.