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The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is inviting small and medium-sized apprenticeship employers and supporting training providers to help develop the apprenticeship service.

An Expressions of Interest (EOI) has been opened for employers and training providers that currently have a non-levy contract to help the ESFA in its initial phase - testing the system functionality of the digital apprenticeship service for employers who do not pay the levy.

It's a chance to see what users will be able to do ahead of the planned launch in early 2020.

Features include being able to reserve funding from the Government for training company's apprentices, select and save apprenticeships, create and upload apprenticeship job adverts and manage job applications.

To apply to test the service:

  • the employer must have an apprenticeship vacancy that will result in an apprentice starting in August, September or October 2019, for the application to be accepted
  • as this is a test phase, the training provider should already have a contract with ESFA for supporting employers that do not pay the Apprenticeship Levy, and have money left in their non-levy funding allocation

The move follows news that, in future, small and medium-sized employers will be able to access the full benefits of the apprenticeships service, even if they don’t pay the Apprenticeship Levy.

The levy is paid by employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million and is used to help fund apprenticeships and skills development across the country.

The EFSA says: "From August, a small number of employers who do not pay the levy and their associated providers will be able to set up accounts on the apprenticeship service through our first test phase.

"The test phase will take place between August and December 2019.

"The purpose is to help make sure the service meets employer and provider needs, ahead of it being opened up to a wider audience.

"Providers not involved in the initial test phase will not be disadvantaged when we further roll out the service and no new funding is available through this functional test."

During the development phase, the EFSA will be working with employers and supporting providers to test a modest volume of apprenticeship starts.

Applicants who take part in the development will be allocated on a first come, first served basis; the ESFA will not be able to guarantee an apprenticeship start until the selection has been made and applicants have been notified

When applying, employers and providers must:

  • submit a joint application and agree whether it will be the employer or the provider who will make the application - and have permission to do so on the other party’s behalf
  • ensure the provider referenced in the application is on the ESFA Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers at the point of submission
  • ensure the employer referenced in the application submission has an annual pay bill of under £3 million per annum

The EOI has two application windows. The first, open now, closes on 5 July 2019, after which the ESFA will select employers and supporting providers who have starts in August, September or October.

The second window for those who have starts in November and December 2019 will open later this summer.