The law requires all secondary schools in England to invite employers and apprenticeship training providers in to speak to pupils about what programmes are available locally.

Despite high-quality apprenticeships offering a route to degree-level qualifications, many students are being let down by schools that fail to engage with employers and training providers

Arguably the most positive aspect of six years of reforms to the apprenticeship programme has been the introduction of the new sector standards that have opened up a new raft of opportunities on which people of all ages can build a career.

The timing of the introduction of these standards has been a positive development, too, because of the debate surrounding whether all university degrees with the accompanying student debt offer good value for money and grad-level jobs at the end of them. Young people now have a fantastic alternative available in the form of high-quality apprenticeships offering a job, good pay and potentially another route to a degree-level qualification.

Nichola Hay: ‘Apprenticeships offer a solution to businesses facing staff shortages as a consequence of Brexit’ 

Although the picture is improving, many schools, teachers and parents still haven’t taken this on board and many pupils are still having to search for apprenticeship opportunities themselves. The law now requires (pdf) all secondary schools in England to invite employers and apprenticeship training providers in to speak to pupils about what is available locally, but the government’s own research shows that a significant number of them are choosing to ignore it. Skills minister Anne Milton has made it very clear that she will intervene if examples of non-compliance are brought to her attention.

And quite right, too, because many employers now see apprenticeships as the best route to develop young talent in sectors of the economy that are not traditionally associated with them. Professions such as law, finance, teaching and nursing are increasingly embracing the programme, recognising the return on investment that training on the job brings as well as reducing staff turnover. With significant productivity increases also a benefit for employers who offer apprenticeships, it is hard to identify any downside, and the programme offers one solution to businesses facing staff shortages as a consequence of Brexit.

At Outsource Training and Development, we are responding to changing skills needs in the transport, aviation and logistics industries by supporting the apprenticeship programmes of employers. We are working with some of these companies to offer a new apprenticeship for an international freight forwarding specialist. Apprentices on this standard learn skills such as using the UK trade tariff tool, created by the government to help businesses to find the codes that are assigned to exported and imported goods. They also learn how to calculate VAT, duty and excise.

Where a standard is new, employers should take care over their choice of training provider if they contract out the training. Firstly, a government-approved provider will be listed on the official register of apprenticeship training providers. Secondly, standards are more demanding than the old apprenticeship frameworks in terms of the training and assessment required, and it is important to check that the chosen provider has made a successful transition to delivering on the standard. Other forms of due diligence by the employer should be reading a provider’s most recent Ofsted inspection report.

Training under the standards is paid for by the apprenticeship levy on large employers, which since its introduction in April 2017 has raised £4.3bn. In fact, the levy funds the whole programme and the large employers are entitled to access the funding first before smaller employers can use it to offset the cost of their programmes. The latest figures show, however, that the pot is now being exhausted by the levy payers and this is why the Association of Employment and Learning Providers is calling for a separate £1bn annual budget to enable SMEs to offer more apprenticeships to take full advantage of these exciting and varied standards.

• Nichola Hay is director of Outsource Training and Development Ltd and AELP board director