Last week, the BRC was delighted to welcome members across our HR Community to discuss the future of apprenticeships in retail and what the next Government must do to support the industry as we continue through a period of significant transformation.

It should be of no surprise to learn that much of the focus was on the accessibility of apprenticeships and the future of the Apprenticeship Levy. This is in part due to the stark reality that financially, the system as it currently operates is unsustainable, but more importantly for our members, the retail industry is not getting its fair bite of the cherry. The retail industry’s levy contribution is significant; we estimate it to be £160m per year, yet broadly our members tell us they can’t even access half of what they pay in.

Barriers to access remain for apprenticeship standards - which define programme content. These are simply not being developed and approved quickly enough by the Institute for Apprenticeships and the process to access funding to deliver apprenticeships has become more complex and time consuming than industry expected.

What can be done?

So, as we approach the finishing line of the general election campaign, we wait with bated breath to see what the next Government will look like and what this will mean for the future of apprenticeships in retail. Our members are clear, there is no room for an increase in Levy funds which industry fears may well be seen as a solution, given the predicted shortfall in the scheme.

Any gaps in the system must be plugged by the next Government and the BRC will be taking this message to Whitehall post-election.

What is fundamentally important, but also fair, is that any changes to the system ensure a fiscal status quo be maintained and that this delivers a wider choice of apprenticeships at all levels and age entry points. Retailers must be able to access the levy pot into which they have paid so much.

Urgent reform is needed

Though maintaining what currently exists is a priority for members, we should not let the next Government off the hook when it comes to overhauling the system and making levy funds more flexible. With the rising cumulative burden that the retail industry is experiencing through business rates, national living wage increases and costs on crime prevention, there is a clear case for the Treasury to support the largest private sector employer and allow levy funds to be accessed for any form of accredited training to suit workforce needs.

With all the main parties committed to lifelong learning, there is a real opportunity for the next Government to reform the Apprenticeship Levy and support the retail industry in its key role in creating to a more productive, resilient workforce fit for the future.

Please direct requests for further information or queries to Tamara Hill, Employment & Skills Policy Adviser.

Working together with our hand-picked provider partners, BRC Learning offers high quality leadership and management apprenticeships tailored specifically for the retail industry. Find out more here.