Agrifood Industry Advisory Board: barriers and opportunities to accessing funding for training

The first meeting of the re-structured Industry Advisory Board was held on 21 January 2019, to discuss graduate training needs and how they should be funded. The meeting was chaired by David May, of May Agrifood Services Ltd. 

A dozen members of industry and members of the AFTP met in Central London to review their experiences of working with the apprenticeship levy and make suggestions as to how this can be used more flexibly by industry to upskill middle and senior managers to cope with economic uncertainties and technical developments that are occurring at an increasingly fast pace in today’s business environment. 

Traditionally the sector has had an under-investment in training, particularly at graduate level, but the ongoing skills shortage previously identified by the AFTP, demonstrates the necessity for increased investment in research, technical skills and leadership at graduate level and above. 

Members of the board discussed barriers to funding training and new opportunities that are becoming available.

Opening the meeting, David May said: “There is a need to unlock the apprenticeship levy to enable companies to use it on vital training — not only for long-term apprenticeships but also immediate short-term training needs.”

New Level 7 Apprenticeship opportunities

Janette Graham, Apprenticeship Programme Manager, 2 Sisters Food Group, provided an overview of the status of current apprenticeships and introduced three new Level 7 Apprenticeships which are:

  1. Senior Leader (a general management apprenticeship with a qualification equivalent to an MBA)

  2. Research Scientist 

  3. Sustainable Business Specialist 

She said: “Food and Drink apprenticeships and those applicable to the sector are enjoying a good level of success, with Lincoln, Sheffield Hallam and Nottingham Trent being the main players at Level 6. The new Level 7 apprenticeships are focusing on specialisms within the supply chain.”

The new Senior Leader apprenticeship has been approved for delivery from February 2019. The standard for the new Level 7 Research Scientist focused on improving technical skills has been signed off by the Institute for Apprenticeships and will start in 2019.  The Sustainability Business Specialist standard is currently being developed with AFTP for submission to the Institute for Apprenticeships in Q2 2019.

These apprenticeships are the equivalent of Master’s Degree level designed for senior employees in all sizes of organisations, where there is currently a skills gap.

Cian Short, Group Apprentice Manager, Bakkavor, said: “We need highly trained people to help drive the success of the UK agrifood sector.”

“Whilst we have embraced the availability of the Level 6 Apprenticeships for skills development and we will do with the Level 7’s that are available now and in the future, this approach is not suitable for everyone that needs upskilling. 

“The levy is inflexible in not allowing us to use funds to upskill people who need a shorter, focused development programme, as they already possess the majority of the knowledge, skills and behaviours that would be taught during an apprenticeship.”

Janette Graham continued: “SME’s can access apprenticeships but are only eligible for 95% funding. It is not clear how widely known the ‘Trickle Down’ mechanism is, where larger organisations’ funding contributions can be accessed by their smaller suppliers.”

“Unless the apprenticeship levy is made more flexible and employers are able to use it to address shorter term development needs for their staff, companies are going to struggle to make sure they have the skills they need to cope with the challenges of the food industry post-Brexit, and to spend their apprenticeship levy to maximum benefit in their business.”

Opportunities for professional development through AFTP

Deborah Kendale, AFTP Business Development and Marketing Manager provided an overview of the way existing AFTP courses fit into thematic areas across the sector; and into gaps in training provision at post graduate level. As the AFTP courses are not currently included as part of the existing apprenticeship programmes, they are in effect in competition with apprenticeships.

She said: “To highlight and resolve these funding issues, the AFTP is working with members of the Food and Drink Sector Council to inform government of how the agrifood industry training and development landscape looks currently and the need to introduce greater flexibility into the apprenticeship levy.”

Jon Poole, Chief Executive, Institute of Food Science & Technology, observed that there is still little overlap across many of the topic areas covered by the current apprenticeships and the AFTP courses.

He said: “The inflexibility of the training levy payments is impacting on employers’ training budgets. Money that would otherwise have been spent on short courses such as those offered by the AFTP is now being assigned to a businesses’ levy contribution.

“It is important that those in technical roles in the food sector undertake and maintain flexible Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and yet the Levy currently only encourages businesses to focus on structured learning in the form of Apprenticeships.” 

Paul Berryman, Head of Berryman Food Science, called for more programmes that enabled individuals to build their own skills development progression.

He said: “An individual could map their own ongoing programme of study that included short courses, online courses and workshops like those offered by the AFTP, as well as attendance at professional conferences, symposia and other professional courses.”

Skills for innovation and commercial success

Chris Roddis, Ingredient Specialist at Greencore, has benefited first-hand from postgraduate scientific study and research. He explains the positive impact his studies have had on his daily working life.

“My employer was very supportive, which was great, as postgraduate study requires a huge time commitment.

“The modules I completed through the AFTP were extremely interesting. I was accessing advanced science across all sorts of disciplines — in particular it showed me how the food industry is using cutting edge science for testing and product development.

“The study I have undertaken has enabled me to understand what the test results are actually telling us. I feel confident about challenging established thinking and using the latest ideas and techniques to help develop new products that will be commercially successful for the company.”

Apprenticeship Levy goes unspent

New research shows that 80% of levy-paying employers have hired no apprentices, according to David Grant, COO at Haddon Training. The company’s freedom of information requests to the Open University and HM Revenue and Customs confirmed that some £3bn of apprenticeship levy contributions from large businesses - three-quarters of the total - remains unspent.

Of the 53,449 individual employers that have paid towards the apprenticeship levy, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) confirmed that 10,417 employers had accessed their digital apprenticeship service accounts and made at least one commitment to hire an apprentice up until December 2018. 

Summary of key points

David May summarized the key points from the Industry Board meeting:  

  1. Industry is keen to use the apprenticeship levy for training.

  2. Current priority is compulsory training (e.g. BASIS, HACCP, etc) which is normally level 4. 

  3. Funding for other training is very limited. 

  4. Companies are looking to train at level 7, but need to use the apprenticeship levy, plus they want to see some recognition for having done the training i.e. qualification etc. 

  5. Training needs to meet the challenges of a changing business environment and therefore training must respond with rapid updates e.g. for new technology etc. However, as CPD, industry cannot currently use the levy. 

  6. Additional gaps were identified including: Use of data, sustainability, people and human rights.  

  7. Access by SMEs to funding is possible but not well understood.

Have your say on the apprenticeship levy

If you are a business paying the apprenticeship levy and struggling to spend this on new entrants and upskilling existing staff members send us details of your experiences and suggestions of how you’d like the levy to work for you. All responses will be treated confidentially and not be used in future publications without your approval. Send your comments to with the subject heading 'Apprenticeship Levy Feedback'.


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