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Developing Trailblazer Apprenticeships

Our CEO Alison Richmond wrote earlier this year of the opportunities presented by apprenticeships for the conservation sector. Since then much work has been happening in the background  - read on for more on what we've been up to!

What are Apprenticeships - and how are they changing?

Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes which combine on-the-job training, formal learning and paid employment. They are delivered from Level 2 (GCSE Level) through to Level 7 (Post Graduate Degree level). Apprenticeships in their current form have been around since the early ‘90s, but they have of course existed for centuries. As with all Government programmes they have continued to evolve with changing political ambitions – the first reference to apprenticeships appeared in the Statute of Artificers in 1563!


​The latest significant developments, known as ‘Trailblazers’ came out of the 2012 Richard Review which saw a move away from a system driven by the qualification or training provider, to one in which the content of apprenticeships is developed by employer groups. The intention of this has been to ensure that the content of an apprenticeship is matched to the needs of employers, as well as ensuring that those completing the apprenticeships come out with the skills to ensure that they can compete effectively with others in the job market.

These ‘Trailblazer’ groups are working to produce what are called ‘Standards’, which are short documents that outline the key knowledge, skills and behaviours expected of someone performing a particular role. In order to be able to fulfill these standards, learners must undertake 20% off-the-job training (which could take many forms but might include a combination of formal learning, training provided/led by the employer and work shadowing). Once the candidate is ready (after at least twelve months) they must then take an end-point assessment to formally complete their apprenticeship. 

As well as helping to improve the overall quality of delivery, this approach is trying to raise the profile of Apprenticeships - which have been dogged by a negative public image over recent times as being of lesser value than a strictly academic offer. The ‘Trailblazers’ firmly state the intention to shake up the qualifications and focus on end-point assessment, so as to offer greater confidence in those completing the apprenticeships as being fit to practice. At the same time, the Government has set ambitious targets to increase the numbers undertaking apprenticeships, with its target of three million starts by 2020 complemented by a public-sector target of 2.3% of the workforce over the same period. 

What is happening for conservation?

Whilst apprenticeships have been in place to support technical craft skills, little has been in place to support apprenticeships directly within the conservation profession.

Icon has been involved in this area for some time, having been invited to join the ‘Historic Environment’ trailblazer group in 2015. This group has been led by Historic England and has been focused on developing apprenticeships for three aspects of the cultural heritage sector: Archaeology, Advisory roles and Conservation, with each of these areas being led by sub-groups of employers.

The Conservators Working Group was brought together in early 2017 to kick start the development of standards within this area, driven by the need to ensure that suitable training is on offer as well as responding to the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017. The Group includes twelve employers representing the private and public sector from across the profession: Bristol City Council, Cliveden Conservation, English Heritage, Hall Conservation, Historic Royal Palaces, Holy Well Glass, Museum of London, Tate, The National Archives, The University of Manchester, University of Cambridge Museums, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The focus of the Group’s activities started with identifying areas for which it may be appropriate to develop apprenticeships. They identified the role of the Conservation Technician and the Conservator as the areas where an apprenticeship offer would be most successful.


Standards in development

The expression of interest has just been submitted to the Institute for Apprenticeships to develop the Conservation Technician Standard, which is expected to be a Level 4 standard (equivalent to a CertHE or HNC qualification) and take around eighteen months to complete. So far, the group has been focused on developing the Standard itself. This is effectively the aggregated role description which is common across all the employers in the Group, outlining the key knowledge, skills and behaviour which someone performing that job role would be expected to demonstrate. Once this has been agreed (and the approval to develop has been granted by the Institute of Apprenticeships) this Standard will then be sent out for full consultation before it is submitted for final approval. After that point, it will be up to the training providers to outline how they will use existing training or develop new training to support candidates through the apprenticeships.

The other Standard being considered is for a Conservator; this is expected to be either a Level 6 or 7 and will include a full Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. Higher Education Institutions are being approached at this stage to be involved from the outset of developing the standards. This will maintain the hard-fought academic rigour of training, and will offer an alternative route for candidates and employers alike. It will complement the existing degree programmes rather than competing with them and will be an alternative for employers and candidates. 

The benefits

With this approach, prospective candidates (who may be new starts or existing staff members) will be given the opportunity to study for a recognised qualification, whilst working and developing their practical skills on the job, and of course earn a salary at the same time. They will also avoid the debt built up through Student Loans, as Apprenticeships are fully funded by the employer and the Government (either out of the employers levy pot for larger employers, or based on a 10% contribution from the employer, and 90% from the Government for smaller employers).

Although those studying may not have the experience, the benefit for employers is that they are able to shape the programme to suit their needs, or even use apprenticeships as a mechanism to re-skill or up-skill existing staff members. This is supported by a relaxation on the eligibility requirements for people coming onto Apprenticeship programmes, the most significant element being that those with existing qualifications, provided that they are not in the same subject, can be placed onto an Apprenticeship.

What’s next?

The Conservator Working Group is keen to maintain momentum with the development of these standards, and the Group is working hard with a view to having the Standards ready for delivery by September 2018.

As well as bringing the employers together, Icon is supporting the development by co-ordinating the Conservator Working Group to help draft the standards and ensure that Icon’s Professional Standards are maintained. Skills are a devolved matter, and so the changes apply to England only. Icon is of course committed to supporting the development of training for conservators and is keen to support similar initiatives across the UK. 

If you are interested in becoming part of this working group, then please do email to register your interest. There is also further information available here

Lead Image Gwendonline Lemée © 
Image 1: Icon Intern, Paul Turner, Bowes Museum © 
Image 2: Matt Wreford © 


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