You’re a small business who’s invested in taking on an apprentice – only to find that ESFA regulations give them one day off a week for off-the-job training! The financial impact this 20% off-the-job (OTJ) training rule has on small businesses is one of the reasons why it’s such a hotly debated topic in the world of apprenticeships.
So, is OTJ training necessary or a box-ticking exercise that benefits no one? In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of OTJ as well as some feedback from learners to find out: Is 20% off-the-job training really necessary?
What is Off-the-Job Training?
OTJ training or learning is any development that takes place away from the usual workplace of the apprentice but within working hours and on the employer’s dime. It’s a stipulation of ESFA – the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The idea is to add additional value to an apprenticeship above and beyond the vocational skills an apprentice learns that are directly applicable to their vocation.
The ESFA rule is that 20% of an apprenticeship should be dedicated to this off-the-job training. This can be spread out however works best for the employer and apprentice. For example, it can work out as one hour a day, one day a week, or one week a month.
Employers cannot be recompensated for apprenticeships unless they meet this stipulation, as set out in the Apprenticeship funding rules and guidance for employers. (Education & Skills Funding Agency, 2019)
Examples of OTJ
OTJ can be hard to define. Basically, it’s any type of learning that takes place during working hours that doesn’t count as normal work. English and Maths qualifications don’t count – a common misconception.
- Training day release
- Industry visits
- Role play
- Online learning
- Participating in competitions.
Why does the UK government insist on 20% OTJ?
The 20% minimum for OTJ is based on study and comparison of the most successful apprenticeships internationally. According to the report Taking Training Seriously, apprenticeships in other countries have as much as 50% OTJ within their apprenticeships, making the UK’s minimum 20% a fairly modest figure. (Field, 2018)
This may be, in part, why the government will be introducing T Levels in 2020 – similar to apprenticeships, except the majority of the time will be spent in OTJ.
The purpose of off-the-job training is to make sure the apprentice receives a well-rounded learning experience. The idea of an apprenticeship is to ensure the apprentice is equipped for the workplace. Some of the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in the workplace simply might not be covered through workplace learning alone. OTJ allows all areas to be covered.
Concerns for employers
Some employers are wary of the 20% OTJ minimum.
They consider the following downfalls:
- Not seeing the return on investment of an apprentice who is off-the-job 20% of the time
- Fear the apprentice’s external skills and knowledge will encourage them to leave their position
- Taking time away from essential on-the-job training.
The National Apprenticeship Service aims to counter some of these worries in their document ‘Off-the-job training: Myth vs fact’. (National Apprenticeship Service, 2019)
In this document, the NAS reaffirms how important OTJ is to achieving occupational competence. After all, apprenticeships weren’t created solely for the benefit of employers. The purpose of apprenticeships is to prepare young people for the world of work; and OTJ is proven to be highly effective.
The positive impact of off-the-job training
The positives of OTJ far outweigh the downfalls.
- Apprentices receive a higher-quality education that covers more aspects that are essential to occupational competence
- There is the opportunity to learn from a wider range of mentors and industry experts
- As a country, OTJ keeps us on par with the quality of international apprenticeships and outcomes
- Apprentices can walk away with additional training and certifications to help them in the long-term
- The difference in learning styles from hands-on, to online, classroom or other types can be beneficial to learners
- Learners are given the chance to study away from the distractions and pressures of the workplace.
What apprentices have to say
Perhaps the most valid feedback on whether or not OTJ has a positive impact comes from the learners themselves.
Here’s what some former apprentices have to say about OTJ:
“I completed my apprenticeship in Business Admin. I found it very beneficial as I could choose the day I wanted to do my off-the-job training and I could balance my workload around it. The training allowed me to apply what I learnt from my coursework to my role at Brooks and Kirk. Alongside that, I was able to do my normal everyday work and use some of it for my apprenticeship work. As an example, whilst I was on OTJ training days, I could read through the units and pick up on things that I could screenshot whilst doing my normal job such as emails and use that for coursework evidence.
“If I was to say anything negative about the off-the-job training, it would be that sometimes if there was a larger than normal workload, having my training day would set me back on the work. However, I was easily able to balance it back out again.”
“I completed my advanced apprenticeship in Marketing a few years ago. From my experience, I found the 20% off-the-job training a nuisance at times but beneficial nonetheless. It’s a tricky one, because I do believe that it is necessary, as it provides the apprentice with an ideal opportunity to broaden their occupational knowledge, which is a necessity for personal development.
“However, speaking from personal experience, there was times when I had a lot going on, I was really busy and I just wanted to crack on with my gradually growing but enjoyable to-do list. But then all of a sudden, I found myself skipping the ‘off-the-job’ day 2 or 3 weeks in a row, which meant that I needed to play catch up. It was my own fault for opting to work on those days rather than taking a step back. The thing is, I enjoy keeping busy and getting my teeth stuck into campaigns and ideas we are working on. Whereas, I never have been and never will be an academic person.
“So, if I am being completely honest, I saw the 20% off the job training as more of a “I have to do it”, rather than a “I want to do it”. Although, I do think it serves a purpose and it key to developing the competency of the apprentice in the long-term.”
“I, like Svajone, completed my apprenticeship in Business Admin. I found that the 20% OTJ training was useful because it gave me dedicated time to focus on the theory side of the apprenticeship.
“On the other hand, sometimes it interfered with my normal workload and I found myself unable to dedicate that one day a week to completing units because I was so busy with other work. This meant that I would be catching up on the hours in the weeks after. Ultimately, it still paid off as I completed the apprenticeship and have the qualification.”
The results are in
When all is considered, it’s clear that the 20% OTJ stipulation is going to continue to be a sore spot for employers and apprentices alike. That being said, the results of OTJ in producing well-rounded and confident workers has been well-evidenced in government and educational reviews.
Perhaps the 20% minimum will change over time, especially in light of the new T Levels being introduced this year. Who can say?
For now, the 20% OTJ is a rule that’s here to stay. We recommend that employers do their research to find out exactly what counts as OTJ and how best to create a learning pathway that benefits both the apprentice and the employer in the long-term.