15 useful negotiating tips

Negotiating tips for Unite reps, to help make sure that the Apprenticeship Levy and Funding are used on good quality Apprenticeships.

Are you a Unite rep or negotiator? If so, the following negotiating tips can help make sure that Apprenticeship funding and levy is used on good quality Apprenticeships. These tips have been developed in partnership between Unite the Union and Unionlearn with the TUC, for Unite representatives and learning reps who are negotiating with employers on apprenticeships. 

Fact finding, first conversations and planning

The Apprenticeship Levy requires all employers operating in the UK, with a pay bill over £3 million each year, to make an investment in Apprenticeships. To make sure the levy leads to good quality Apprenticeships, you will want to speak to your employer and work together to develop a plan. 

  • Ask your employer if they know about the levy.

  • Find out if your employer will have to pay it.

    The key piece of information you need to ­find out is the size of the employer’s payroll. If the payroll is over £3 million, then the employer will have to pay the levy.

  • If your employer doesn’t have to pay the levy, but still wants to recruit apprentices, in England the government will cover 90 per cent of the costs of Apprenticeship training and assessment (and with incentives, including for taking on 16-18 year olds, this could see 100 percent of training and assessment costs covered).

  • Different apprenticeship funding systems operate in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, therefore specific information on the apprenticeship systems in the devolved nations can be accessed by clicking here.

  • If your employer does have to pay the levy, ­find out if they have a plan to take on apprentices, because they will still be able to access funding for that purpose, whether through a digital account in England, or through the government in the devolved nations. Have you been shown a copy of the plan? Your employer should consult with you about the implications of the levy.

  • If there’s no plan in place, you can help the employer develop one and make sure the funding is spent on good quality Apprenticeships.

  • You can use the Unite Apprenticeships Toolkit which sets out the key components of a high quality Apprenticeship.

For detailed information and links about what the Apprenticeship Levy is, who it will affect, and how it will operate. Click here for Unite apprenticeship levy guidance

Developing a plan

Work with your employer to understand how much their levy payment will be. This government tool might be helpful

The employer will want to understand how they can get their money back. You will need to ­need to find out the costs associated with current and future Apprenticeship programmes: 

  • Find out the cost of existing Apprenticeship programmes (both in terms of training and assessment costs, and wages). 
  • Find out the numbers of apprentices recruited. 
  • Find out the types of Apprenticeships they are doing. 

Encourage your employer to think about the wide range of Apprenticeships that are available. It doesn’t have to be more of the same: 

  • For example, higher level Apprenticeships might be able to plug future skills gaps. 
  • You can help identify skills that the employer needs for the future and the skills that your members feel they need. 
  • By working with you to identify future skills gaps and to identify the needs of the workforce, the employer is more likely to utilise their levy expenditure and/or funding available to them. 

Your employer may have always used one local training provider. The existing relationship may be great and work well, but it’s worth exploring the options available: 

Encourage your employer to speak to and negotiate with a range of different providers to find a relevant Apprenticeship, and network with similar employers to share experiences and best practice, such as through the employers’ trade association. Training providers can include a local college or a specialist apprenticeship industry training provider. 

  • Shop around if the provider can’t offer what is needed in terms of quality, Apprenticeship framework/standard and price. 
  • Work with your employer to assess Apprenticeship packages that different providers are offering. 
  • Try and negotiate additional components to the Apprenticeship which will mean a better quality experience for apprentices. 

For full lists of Apprenticeship frameworks, standards and funding information, browse the following links:

-    Apprenticeship Standards (England)
-    Apprenticeship Frameworks (England)

More details and the most up to date funding bands in England for the above can be found here.

Available Apprenticeship Frameworks in the devolved nations can be viewed online at the following links:

-    Apprenticeship Frameworks (Scotland) and Modern Apprenticeship Frameworks (Skills Development Scotland)
-    Apprenticeship Frameworks (Wales) and Welsh Government – Apprenticeships
-    Apprenticeship Frameworks (Northern Ireland)

Make yourselves aware of Quality Assurance requirements for apprenticeship training providers laid down by the appropriate government body:

-    For England Ofsted monitor the quality and performance of apprenticeship training providers in a similar way as they do schools and colleges, and moving forward from May 2017, all providers in England must also be approved and registered on the Register of Apprentice Training Providers (RoATP). You can check the Ofsted status of prospective providers here.

-    For Scotland apprenticeship training providers must comply with the quality standards laid down by Skills Development Scotland including the Quality Assurance Framework and Modern Apprentice programme rules;

-    For Wales providers must comply with the quality standards laid down by Estyn and the Welsh Government, including the Specification of Apprenticeship Standards for Wales (SASW) documents;

-    For Northern Ireland apprenticeship training suppliers must comply with the quality standards as laid down by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and the “Operational guidelines for suppliers who are contracted to deliver the ApprenticeshipsNI programme

Unite has relationships with other stakeholders such as Sector Skills Councils who could help broker new relationships with providers and explore potential Apprenticeships which would help the employer.

Making sure the Apprenticeships are high quality

If your employer agrees to setting up an Apprenticeship programme, you might consider using the Unite Apprenticeships Toolkit and resources like the Unionlearn Quality Award to negotiate good quality Apprenticeship programmes. 

Some of the factors you may want to consider: 

  • Highlight the importance of the role of union reps in the Apprenticeship programme. For example:

    - Union learning reps can assist with mentoring programmes and provide additional English and Maths support to Apprentices.
    - Health and safety reps can make Apprenticeships even safer.
    - ULRs can carry out workforce skills audits which will help employers plan for their businesses future skills needs.

  • Before the employer and provider are ready to begin recruiting make sure they have considered practical steps that can be taken to widen Apprenticeship access to underrepresented groups. Unite and Unionlearn have additional guidance on this.

  • Work with the employer to include a mentoring programme for apprentices, so that they feel supported and welcomed into a new workplace. Unite reps can help with this. This is likely to lead to improved completion rates for apprentices.

  • Highlight where Apprenticeships can be progression routes to future jobs in the organisation. Clear routes and pathways should be developed so apprentices can progress on to higher learning opportunities and careers.

  • Speak to other union reps and officers to see whether apprentices are covered by any collective agreements on pay. Consider seeking an agreement with the employer on apprentice pay rates.