The apprenticeship levy and other issues to note this year

Written by: Chris James | Published:

As well as cross-industry issues such as the apprenticeship levy, the waste management sector will be affected in 2017 by other matters, from waste crime to confusion over waste laws in the midst of Brexit, explains Chris James, chief executive officer of the Waste Management Industry Training & Advisory Board (WAMITAB)

It is no understatement to say that 2016 was a year of surprises; with Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. As we settle into 2017, it is clear the waste and recycling industry will have a number of challenges (and opportunities) to face.

As an awarding organisation with over 25 years’ experience, WAMITAB has seen changes
in the world of skills, but 2017 will witness one of the biggest changes of the past decade, with far-reaching consequences for employers and training providers alike.

Apprenticeship levy

From April 2017, employers with a payroll of £3m per year and above will be subject to a 0.5% apprenticeship levy, payable monthly through HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

This applies to all UK employers; the devolved nations will receive a population-based proportion of the levy funds and they will decide how to allocate this funding to their devolved responsibilities.

To illustrate – a company with a payroll of £20m would pay an annual levy of £100,000, less the £15,000 allowance. To break even, assuming an average training cost of £10,000 per apprentice, they would need to recruit or employ eight or nine apprentices per year.

This seems reasonable. However, a large conglomerate with a wage bill of £800m, facing a levy of around £4m, would need to commit to 400 apprenticeship roles, which is a potentially tall order and could make apprenticeships the only viable training option.

Trailblazer Apprenticeships

Funding is just one aspect; since 2014, Trailblazer Apprenticeship Standards have started to replace the SASE frameworks in England.

These new employer-led standards include the requirement for an end-point assessment to determine that the apprentice demonstrates the level of knowledge, skills and behaviours required in the standard, and performance will be graded (pass, merit, distinction).

However, the existing apprenticeship frameworks in waste and recycling at Levels 2, 3 and 4 are still ‘live’ and available for the registration of candidates until at least spring 2017 and some through to autumn 2017.

The current funding will remain in place until the transition to the new apprenticeship levy system, allowing employers to continue to enrol learners under the current funding mechanism. This will then apply for the duration of that apprenticeship.

Work has begun on a new standard for waste and recycling operations by a recently convened group of industry stakeholders, who will work collectively to develop new standards; more information will be shared as it becomes available.

Key themes

There are some recurring themes for the waste management and recycling industry in 2017.

These comprise:

• Waste crime: Or the “new narcotics”, as it was labelled by the head of the Environment Agency (EA) in The Guardian in September 2016, where a profit before responsibility approach creates headaches for authorities.

It remains a serious problem, so it is clear that the clampdown and prosecutions will continue, making compliance an imperative for legitimate operators.

• Waste fires: The EA published new Fire Prevention Plan guidance in July 2016, promoting a risk-based approach to preventing fires and minimising the impact of fires that do occur. However, it has not been well received by some industry bodies that fear it will have a “major negative impact”.

• Keeping safe: statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive in July 2016 for the period to March 2016 showed that the preceding 20-year period has seen a downward trend in the rate of fatal injury. However, a number of incidents last summer and more recently mean that the statistics to March 2017 will show an increase.

• Circular economy: The EU Circular Economy Package was published in December 2015. There is growing support for the concept of waste as a resource, and the UK waste and recycling businesses have sought clarity on the government’s position over EU waste laws since the vote to leave the EU.

Competence is at the heart of each of these themes, which is why building the skills and knowledge of those working in the industry is so important.

Innovation in the sector will help to support the UK’s transition from a take-make-use-dispose economy, and the industry’s cutting-edge approach to managing resources will nurture its contribution to the UK economy, which was estimated at £41 billion in February 2015.

Investing in skills and competence makes great business sense. A professional approach to managing waste and recycling operations helps to keep workers safe, improve performance (and profits) and enhances the reputation of the sector.

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