Advanced Learner Loans can be an important option for employers to assist in the development of their staff. At Access Skills, we’ve noticed that a lot of employers in the care sector haven’t considered these loans as a legitimate means of aiding staff development.
We believe that Advanced Learner Loans offer a unique opportunity for employers to encourage staff development, in particular supporting Level 3-5 qualification options for their staff. The main alternative method of developing staff on Level 3-5 programmes is the government’s apprenticeship scheme. However, enrolling staff on to an apprenticeship funded programme comes with a specific set of requirements (which we will outline in this article). Advanced Learner Loans do not have all of the same requirements. They are an agreement between the learner, the loan company and the approved training provider.
In this article, we will outline how you, as an employer, may find the Advanced Learner Loan system an attractive alternative option to the apprenticeship route.
Complete flexibility to support your employee
Supporting employees through an apprenticeship has some significant implications for employers:
- The learner has to take a minimum of 12 months on the programme (the new Level 3-5 apprenticeships are expected to take up to 2 years to complete).
- You have to pay an employer fee.
- All of the work associated with the apprenticeship has to be completed in work time. That means you are committing to a period of 1 to 2 years when your employee will spend a minimum of 20% of their working time away from daily duties. This is a significant financial commitment. An Advanced Learner Loan is different because the employee does not have to complete the whole programme in working time and they can complete it in less than a year (this isn’t possible in all cases but, at Access Skills, we’ve had Level 5 learners completing their diplomas in just 6 to 9 months).
Protection of your investment as an employer
Most employers who invest in their staff development are keen to ensure their investment is protecting the future delivery of their service. A significant downside of apprenticeships is that your employee could leave as soon as they are qualified, without having to repay any of the training costs. Apprenticeship rules do not permit employers to recover these costs from their employees. That means your investment can be almost worthless.
An Advanced Learner Loan is different because you could set your stipulations and parameters to any support you give to the learner. For example, you could stipulate that the employee has to remain at the company for two years after completion of the qualification, or they have to pay back the support you have given in full or part. This is a win-win because the incentive is still there for the employee to gain support for their qualification and your investment is protected. The employer does not contract with the government in terms of the Advanced Learner Loan system and therefore you are free to decide how to approach it with employees yourself.
Provides an incentive for your employee to get qualified
The most obvious benefit of Advanced Learner Loans is that they provide an incentive for employees to get a level 3, 4, 5 or 6 qualifications. This isn’t limited to the Care industry, but it is perfect for those that work in Care because a lot of the work can be completed flexibly, inside or outside of normal working hours. Existing staff getting qualified can be very cost-effective for care employers, compared with the staff turnover and recruitment costs associated with trying to hire already-qualified staff.
You can still claim the Workforce Development Fund
If you’re not aware of the Workforce Development Fund, check out our previous article. It’s a government-funded scheme designed to help employers pay for the training costs of their staff gaining further qualifications. If your employee is paying for their course with the help of an Advanced Learner Loan, you can claim under the Workforce Development Fund to cover any financial contribution or cost you make to your employee’s programme i.e. if you decide to support the employee by contributing towards the course fee. The Workforce Development Fund can, for example, fund employers up to £1500 for the level 5 Diploma. In some cases, it may be possible to get all of your investment back and develop staff for free.
Advanced Learner Loans Vs Apprenticeships
In summary, Advanced Learner Loans have some key advantages over apprenticeships, for both learners and employers:
Training & assessment both in and out of paid work time.
Whilst learning through an apprenticeship system, all of the coursework has to be completed in paid work time. That creates an added pressure and makes apprenticeships less accessible. Alternatively, Advanced Learner Loans enable the learner to complete training and assessment activities both in and out of work.
No minimum time limit on courses.
Apprenticeships have to take a minimum of 12 months. For employers, that means the employee will be otherwise occupied for up to 2 years. For some courses, this isn’t necessary and they can be completed sooner. The benefit for the learner is that they have more flexibility and can complete the course at their own pace and fit it around their work and home-life commitments.
No additional apprenticeship activities required.
Employees undertaking an apprenticeship cannot just complete the diploma qualification. They must also complete other requirements stipulated in the apprenticeship standard: numeracy and literacy development and qualifications (if not already obtained), end-point assessment and other industry-specific components if stipulated (such as first aid). These are not a requirement for the Advanced Learner Loan which is made available for the specific diploma qualification only.
Employees can contribute to the cost of the course.
When a learner is already employed and they are seeking a qualification to progress within their current company, they can often contribute to the cost of the course. This isn’t possible with apprenticeships, where the employer has to pay all the costs required in full.
Employers can impose financial “clawback”.
If an employer is contributing to the cost of the employee’s qualification, they can seek financial clawback of this if the employee leaves the company. For example, if the employee leaves within 24 months of completing the qualification, they have to pay their employer back in full or on a graduated scale. This provides an incentive for both the learner and the employer to complete the qualification and continue within the company.
Who can apply?
To apply, the learner (or employee) must:
• Be 19 or over and living in the UK (on the first day of your course).
• Be enrolling onto a level 3, 4 5 or 6 qualifications.
• Have been living in the UK, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man for three years before the start of your course.
• Be a UK national or have a ‘settled status’ (it is still possible to be eligible if you’re an EU national or a migrant worker).
Important Facts About Advanced Learner Loans for Learners
• Advanced learner loans aren’t means-tested. That means there are no credit checks and you don’t have to be currently employed to apply.
• You don’t have to pay anything back until you’re earning over £25,725 per year.
- If earning over £25,725 per year, you do not start loan repayments until the following April after your programme is completed.
- The annual loan repayment sum required is calculated as 9% of the difference between £25,725 and actual earnings above this i.e if earning £27,000 per year you would repay £115 in total for the year (£9.58 per month)
• Your loan will cover the course fees and will be paid directly to the learning provider.
• The minimum borrowing amount is £300.
• You can apply for a maximum of four loans, but you can only have one loan at a time. (You must not have previously had a loan to do the same course subject at the same level.)