As reported in the press, did anyone see the recent article about the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development’s report on the Apprenticeship Levy, entitled ‘Addressing employer underinvestment in training’? It wasn’t just talking about cleaning, but its conclusions coincided very much with what many in our industry have been saying about the negative effect of the Apprenticeship Levy on training expenditure.
Its conclusion is that the levy has failed to deliver the government’s key objective, ie: increased investment in workplace training. Key findings are that the number of apprenticeships started has fallen by 26% in the last two years and that 58% of employers think the levy will have no overall impact on the amount they spend on training. It recommends that the levy should take a broader approach to include other forms of accredited training that are aligned to each industrial sector – in other words a levy that is less prescriptive and gives employers more flexibility.
Any cleaning contractor paying the levy will recognise these frustrations with the current scheme. The levy can only be reclaimed against recognised apprenticeships. And yet, as we know, no new apprenticeship for front-line cleaning operatives has been agreed that would replace the old NVQ-style framework apprenticeships in cleaning that are being phased out from July next year. That will just leave contractors with generic ‘backoffice’ apprenticeships such as those in HR, IT, accounts, or compliance as being reclaimable. Meanwhile, any cleaning industry-specific training that is officially accredited, and could therefore act as a foundation for staff to build a career in the industry, remains beyond the financial reach of most contractors wanting to implement it on a company-wide scale. Why? Because as long as employers find themselves paying thousands of pounds each year to the levy, but with nothing to reclaim it against, they will not have funds left over to spend on other forms of training. A crazy situation!
So where do we go from here? Well I believe we need to sort out two issues: one is the use of the levy itself and the other, as I have mentioned in previous columns, is the creation of a clear pathway to building a career in cleaning. The solution to the first is simple enough. We must lobby government (possibly in conjunction with other industries for whom apprenticeships are not appropriate) to relax the rules on reclaimable training. That would immediately bring the currently commercially available, accredited training options within reach, eg: BICSc Licence to Practice, City & Guilds, WAMITAB, UhUb etc. On its own this would be a major step forward and release millions of pounds into cleaning industry training.
How much better would it be, however, if the training schemes developed by the above organisations could all be designed to lead exclusively to the achievement of one recognised, portable, multi-tiered, or multi-faceted qualification – a Diploma in Cleaning – that all workers in our industry could use to build a career path? The first tier could be along the lines of basic competence; the second more advanced, task-based skills; the third supervisory; and the fourth focused on cleaning management of various types. Training would be a combination of on-the-job delivery and assessment, backed up by off-site classroom-based instruction for the more complex areas. The different organisations would contribute to drafting the standards of attainment, but the qualification itself, including the issuing of certificates and so on, would be administered by one nominated industry body.
To me, a single, universally acknowledged qualification is the best chance we have of turning cleaning into a respected career. At the same time, it would surely strengthen the hand of our industry in securing the government’s flexibility on the levy in a way that would give all contractors the opportunity to benefit properly from the scheme.