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Paraplanners lead the way on training

There has been a great deal in the news about apprenticeships lately. For me, apprenticeships are close to home, as my son has just started one after eight years of working in a bank.

The government has set an extremely ambitious target of 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020. In order to help fund this, they are imposing an apprenticeship levy of 0.5 per cent of payroll on larger companies, and it is estimated that less than 2 per cent of employers will have to pay it. Interestingly, there appears to be no analysis of where the 3m apprentices will be – which sectors, job types or level.

The new apprenticeships that have been developed – known as trailblazers – are meant to be employer-led, and about half of them involve industrial partnerships. According to a recent report from the UKCES (Employer ownership of skills) a number of lessons have been learned. These include developing a business-driven apprenticeship, attracting young people into key industries, developing higher level skills and building capacity in the supply chain. The benefits to individual companies and apprentices include assuring quality of training provision, strengthening of workforce development and improving recruitment.

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The new apprenticeships in financial services did involve employers, although not always the ones you would expect to see. I was involved in the development of the paraplanning standards and there were representatives of larger firms there, but few paraplanners or financial planners. The wider benefits mentioned above are also relevant to smaller firms, but I believe there are others as well.

The take-up of apprenticeships has always been disappointing in financial services companies. Banks and insurance companies have had apprentices, but these have often been in customer service or administration. They are in a position to be able to build relationships with training providers and manage the processes effectively. The old-style programmes involved a lot of paperwork for the apprentice assessor – perhaps a line manager or supervisor and an external verifier. This was off-putting for companies with only a handful of employees.

The typical financial adviser is juggling many balls – looking after clients, compliance, managing the office and staff, etc. It is a big deal to take on a young person with little or no experience. It is difficult to put a training plan in place without support and to find the time to do it properly.

The trailblazer apprenticeships offer the apprentice a clear career path – for example, from financial services administrator to paraplanner or mortgage adviser. There will be quality training through a recognised training provider and industry qualifications. For the employer, there will be funding for the training and external evaluation. The final assessment will often be a work-based project which will add value to the business. There will be support for the apprentice and probably the opportunity to meet with others in similar businesses or studying for the same qualifications. The training provider has a key role to play, working with the employer, providing training as required, and administering the end point assessment work.