Non levy payers will soon be able to use the Digital Apprenticeship Service to access funds and search for training providers.

The Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is changing the way SMEs access funding for apprenticeships in 2020. From next year SMEs (who don’t pay the apprenticeship levy) will be able to access the government’s award-winning Apprenticeship Service in the same way as large levy paying employers do today.

If you’re an SME, this will give you much more control and choice in how apprenticeship training can support your business.

From January 2020, SMEs will be able to select their apprenticeship training from all main providers listed in the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP). Not all providers listed on the Register have a direct contract from the ESFA to support apprenticeship training for SMEs, but the ESFA are providing additional funding. So SMEs will be given much more choice than before.

In 2020 SMEs will be able to access training support from those with and those without an ESFA contract. Effectively giving two routes to support apprentices and SMEs:

Funding apprenticeship training through the Apprenticeship Service

SMEs will be able to ‘reserve’ funding for apprentices through the Apprenticeship Service.

The ESFA has committed to an additional budget to support apprentices. Up to 15,000 new apprenticeship starts will be funded through the Apprenticeship Service between January to March 2020. This additional budget is only for those apprentices recording as a start on the Apprenticeship Service and starting an Apprenticeship Standard (not an Apprenticeship Framework).

More information and details on how exactly the Apprenticeship Service and ‘reserved’ funding will work is expected to be released by the ESFA in the New Year.

Funding apprenticeship training with providers that have a direct ESFA contract

SMEs will still be able to continue to work with providers who have a direct ESFA contract in 2020 and will still be able to fund new apprentice starts. The ESFA plans to extend all current direct contracts for providers so that there is a continuity of service for apprentices on programme and also for any new starts that may take place in 2020.

So if you’re looking for an apprentice or an apprenticeship training provider to help develop your workforce, get in touch today to see how we can help. 

What are the next steps with the Apprenticeship Service?

2020 is going to be a transitional year with funding for apprentices changing. Accessing and using the Apprenticeship Service is going to become the norm for future apprenticeship training. However, the ESFA is giving providers and SMEs the time to gradually register and transition to joining the Apprenticeship Service during the year.

From April 2020 the ESFA will move into the second phase of the transition. Feedback and lessons learned will be used to continually enhance and develop the Apprenticeship Service after April 2020 so that it is fit for purpose and fit for the future.

Next steps for SMEs

Although the Apprenticeship Service itself is not new for large levy paying employers, it is going to be a new way of working for SMEs. Interserve Learning & Employment holds a direct contract with the ESFA to support SMEs and apprentices. We have also worked with hundreds of large levy paying employers since 2017 so we are familiar and experienced in navigating our way through the Apprenticeship Service. We can share our experiences and expertise with you to help you make the most of the changes that are coming in 2020.

The ESFA are hosting a series of free webinars in the New Year by subject matter experts to provide details of the changes so you may find it beneficial to join one of these:

  • employers, providers and end-point assessment organisations: a guide to the apprenticeship assessment service, Wednesday 8 January 2020, 1pm to 2pm
  • employers: what you need to know about end-point assessment, Thursday 9 January 2020, 11.30am to 12.30pm

You can register for these webinars via:


You can also watch all Apprenticeship Service webinar recordings on YouTube.

We’ve also started to create a series of frequently asked questions which will be continually updated as we learn more about the transitional arrangements. Click here to view the FAQs!

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