• Education & Training

Bridging the Skills Gap: Apprenticeship Levy

  • Tuesday, 30 October 2018
  • The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
  • 08:30 - 16:15
  • Overview

“Without radical reform, swathes of people face a future where they have skills mismatched for jobs, risking them being in low paid, insecure work, and reliant on benefits, at a huge cost to people’s lives and the local and national economy” – Cllr Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council.

A radical change is occurring to improve the skills of the UK’s workforce. Since April 2017, the government’s Apprenticeship Levy requires private and public firms that pay more than £3 million in wages to contribute 0.5% of their annual payroll into a fund that will support both new and existing apprenticeships. The scheme was introduced to diminish the ongoing skills gap and give employers more control over training to suit their requirements. The government hopes it will have created 3 million apprenticeships by 2020.

The levy has certainly received mixed results. Proponents argue it will put apprenticeships back in the same esteem as university degrees. A recent survey by the Chartered Management Institute showed that 63% of businesses agreed that the apprenticeship levy is necessary to raise employer investment in skills. However, despite this and the initial championing of the scheme, evidence shows it has been vastly underused in its early stages.

The Department for Education (DfE) reported a 35% fall in apprenticeship starts in November 2017 compared to November 2016, when the levy had been in place for 8 months. Figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also showed that 22% of employers do not know what they’re paying for, 40% think it will not make any difference to the training they already offer and 19% are writing it off as a tax and not using it for training. Only 33% are developing new apprenticeship programmes. Moreover, the CIPD further reported that only 20% of employers who pay the levy show support for it and 53% want the levy to be replaced with a broader training tariff.

So the question remains: how do we fix the UK skills gap? Does the apprenticeship levy need re-working or re-branding? Are there better, alternate methods that could be tried to improve the situation? Join us at Open Forum Events’ exciting new conference Bridging the Skills Gap: Apprenticeship Levy.


The levy particularly aims to help smaller businesses, with firms whose payroll is under £3 million a year not required to pay; 90% of these companies’ apprenticeship costs will be paid by the government up to the funding band maximum whilst the companies will pay 10% towards costs for those aged 19 and over. For even smaller companies (those with fewer than 50 employees) the government pays all costs for new apprentices aged 16-18 and for those aged 19-24 who are leaving care or have a Local Authority and Healthcare plan. There are 15 bands of funding available ranging from £1,500 to £27,000. However, many small firms are struggling with the bureaucracy which make it difficult to access funds.

Employers have an allowance of £15,000 to offset against their levy payment, intended to work in a similar way to personal tax allowance. The levy is paid in same way as PAYE and the funding can only be spent on apprenticeship training and assessment with approved providers. Employers have two years to draw from the levy fund once registered and it can be used for either new or existing staff. Additional funding is available for firms to support apprentices to meet minimum Maths and English requirements, according to research by the Local Government Association (LGA), 9 million people lack numeracy and literacy skills. The government has also set up a Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers to assist employers in finding and comparing training providers to deliver the new apprenticeship standards.

Although the skills shortage is felt in many different jobs with a range of skill levels, it is most severe in the STEM sector. A shortage of construction workers is the lowest it has been since records began. This is leading to knock-on effects in other areas such as housing. Research by the Federation of Master Builders shows that an engineering skills shortage is particularly bad in small and medium-sized businesses, which puts the government’s plan to build hundreds of thousands of houses at risk.

The quality of apprenticeship server providers has also been questioned. In January 2018, Ofsted reported that the proportion of apprenticeship students being taught by inadequate providers had increased to 20% in 2017. Meanwhile, 40% of apprenticeship providers they assessed required improvement and 11% were inadequate.

A further debate is regarding whether the problem is in fact a labour shortage rather than a skills shortage. The potential ‘Brexit brain drain’ and subsequent smaller pool of labour means there is an even greater need for better skills in the workforce. A survey by Totaljobs found that almost two-thirds of 1,355 businesses believe Brexit will cause their business to suffer from a lack of workers with suitable skills. Another survey by Capital City College Group found that 52% of 1,100 British businesses would consider taking on one or more apprentices to compensate for the impact of Brexit. In early 2018, the Office for National Statistics published that annual net migration from September 2016-17 was down by 29,000. However, at the same time, non-EU migration increased to 205,000.

The discussion extends further to how the skills shortage can be tackled more locally. The LGA has argued that, within five years, the national government should hand more power and funding to councils across England and Wales to allow them to deliver a “one-stop” local service for skills, employment, apprenticeship, careers advice and business support provision.

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  • Confirmed Speakers

  • Benefits of attending

  • Discuss and analyse how the skills gap is affecting the UK economy, labour force and industries.
  • Explore the benefits and downsides of the current Apprenticeship Levy system.
  • Learn about the different perspectives on apprenticeships and the different awareness levels of them.
  • Improve understanding of what the Levy and ongoing skills gap means for different businesses.
  • Gain valuable insight into the many different types of apprenticeships and what they offer.
  • Find out how Brexit will impact the skills gap and what actions can be taken on this.
  • Learn from and discuss with highly esteemed speakers and leading experts in their field.
  • Hear about initiatives to improve diversity in apprentices and the wider workforce.
  • Improve understanding of the introduction of T levels in the education system and effects on the workforce.
  • Excellent networking opportunities.
  • Gain the maximum number of 6 CPD points.

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  • Event Programme


Registration and Coffee in the Networking Area


Chair's Opening Address


Keynote Address

  • John Myers, Head of National Account Management, Education and Skills Funding Agency (confirmed)
"Raising the profile of apprenticeships"

Apprenticeships are not always an obvious choice for school leavers or others looking to gain skills. They are also not held in as high an esteem as they once were. Raising awareness of the different types of apprenticeships that are available and what they can offer is a step towards bridging the skills gap.

  • Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy and External Affairs, Chartered Management Institute (confirmed)
"Management apprenticeships"

There are numerous apprenticeships available. This talk will address management and leadership apprenticeships and their broader policy implications. There will also be focus on the role and relevance of degree apprenticeships and their future growth in meeting employer skills gaps.


Main Sponsor


Q&A Session


Coffee Break in the Networking Area


Cllr Peter John OBE, Deputy Chair and Executive Member for Business, Skills and Brexit, London Councils (invited)

"Finding solutions to a ‘Brexit brain drain’"

Brexit poses numerous challenges and uncertainties. The potential ‘Brexit brain drain’ and subsequent smaller pool of labour means there is an even greater need for improved skills in the workforce. A survey by Totaljobs found that almost two-thirds of 1,355 businesses believe Brexit will cause their business to suffer from a lack of workers with suitable skills. Another survey by Capital City College Group found that 52% of 1,100 British businesses would consider taking on one or more apprentices to compensate for its impact. Brexit could lead to a significant rise in the number of apprentices.


Case Study


Lizzie Crowley, Skills Advisor, CIPD (invited)

"Alternative ways to fix the skills gap"

Apprenticeships are not the only way by which the skills gap can be bridged. There are other factors contributing to the skills shortage such as size of the labour force and access to international markets.


Case Study


Q&A Session


Lunch in the Networking Area


Chair's Afternoon Address


Panel Discussion

Dr Hilary Steedman, Senior Research Fellow, Centre of Economic Performance, LSE (confirmed)

Louise Ward, Apprenticeship Levy and Development Co-ordinator, Coventry City Council / Apprenticeship Levy Manager, The Apprenticeship Levy Manager Ltd (confirmed)

Tom Hadley, Director of Policies and Professional Services, Recruitment and Employment Confederation (invited)

"Matching skills to employers"

There is no one clear-cut solution to perfectly matching a person’s skillset to what’s on offer in the job market. Employers getting the best out of their existing employees and any burgeoning apprentices can certainly be a challenge. Different management styles will have different answers to the best way to go about this.


Coffee Break in the Networking Area


Helen Grant MP, Chair, Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (invited) 

"Supporting all communities"

Apprenticeships can help provide clear pathways for disadvantaged people and neglected communities. The Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN) champions apprenticeships and diversity amongst employers and encourages more people from underrepresented groups, including those with disabilities, women and members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, to consider apprenticeships.  


Lord David Sainsbury, Chair, Independent Panel on Technical Education (invited)

"Implications of T levels"

In October 2017, the then-Education Secretary Justine Greening announced the introduction of T levels. It was claimed that the first three T levels in Digital, Construction, and Education and Childcare will "help deliver a generation of home-grown talent post-Brexit." They will not be taught until 2020 whilst content is developed by leading industry professionals from companies including Rolls Royce, Fuijitsu and EDF. A full set of T levels will be introduced by 2022. They will be funded by £500 million every year. They aim to improve technical education and are equivalent to A levels.


Q&A Session


Chair's Closing Address and Event Close

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Colette Hodson
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The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Construction of The Bridgewater Hall commenced on 22 March 1993, but the idea of a new concert hall for Manchester dates back to the reconstruction of the Free Trade Hall in the 1950s after wartime bomb damage. The Free Trade Hall was home to the city’s famous Hallé orchestra and also hosted rock and pop concerts. However, despite holding great public affection, the 1850s Free Trade Hall was ill-equipped to respond to the rising standards of service and acoustic excellence demanded by performers and audiences.

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