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Apprenticeship Contract or Agreement? Important Differences for Employers in England

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The Apprenticeship Framework

There has been a significant amount of media attention paid to apprenticeships this year. The most recent of which surrounds a report by Ofsted dated 22 October 2015, criticising the quality of apprenticeships. Yet despite concerns that the ‘brand’ attached to apprenticeship is being devalued by poor-quality courses, apprentices can be a very valuable and important part of your business - in fact, many companies across many different industries rely on apprentices to meet labour demands and develop a highly skilled workforce.

While this blog looks at the position of employers in England, EmployEasily helps businesses throughout the UK. If you’re based in Scotland or Wales and want to know about how taking on an apprentice affects your business, please contact our expert employment law and HR team.

However, there are a couple of things that employers must be careful to keep in mind when taking on apprentices, especially in light of the different apprenticeship regimes that operate in England, Wales and Scotland. Chiefly amongst these is the need to be aware of the type of agreement the apprentice is engaged under and therefore what rights the apprentice is entitled to. In Scotland in particular, it will continue to be more difficult to terminate an apprenticeship prematurely, and early termination of a contract of apprenticeship may result in enhanced compensation.

This post focuses on the apprenticeship framework in England and provides a brief overview of recent changes to the law in England regarding apprenticeship agreements.

Changes to Apprenticeship Agreements in England

Earlier this year, the existing apprenticeship framework in England contained in the Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA) was amended to introduce the new ‘approved English apprenticeship agreement’.

These apprenticeship agreements, specific to employers in England, allow employers to take on and train apprentices according to apprenticeship standards that have been designed specifically for their sector. This means that employers, from a range of industries, have a comprehensive framework for how to train an apprentice. For example, there are apprenticeship standards for food and drink, hospitality, adult care, digital industries, hair and beauty, travel and many more sectors besides.

Crucially, approved English apprenticeship agreements are treated as contracts of service, not contracts of apprenticeship, which means that apprentices are entitled to the same statutory protection as ordinary employees, and not the additional protections afforded under contracts of apprenticeship.

Employers should note that:

  • Apprenticeships entered into before 26 May 2015 are covered by the previous regime for apprenticeship agreements;
  • Apprenticeships entered into on or after 26 May 2015, in sectors where there is no approved apprenticeship standard and the apprenticeship takes place under an apprenticeship framework, are also covered by the old statutory regime;
  • Apprenticeships entered into on or after 26 May 2015, in sectors where there is an approved apprenticeship standard, are covered by the new regime.

The Difference Between Apprenticeship Agreements and Contracts of Apprenticeship in England

It is important for employers to note that there are both legal and practical differences between an apprenticeship agreement and a contract of apprenticeship that will have implications for their business. Depending on which of these an apprentice is engaged under, their rights will differ.

An apprentice engaged under a contract of apprenticeship, an apprenticeship agreement or an English approved apprenticeship agreement is an employee so it may be beneficial for employers in England to engage apprentices under a new approved English apprenticeship agreement under the ASCLA, as opposed to a contract of apprenticeship under common law. The reason for this is that apprentices engaged under contracts of apprenticeship at common law have much stronger employment rights, making it very difficult for an employer to end their engagement even if it is not working out. Employing an apprentice under an approved English apprenticeship agreement, however, will make it easier to terminate the employment relationship where the apprentice is not suitable, or is not required.

When considering taking on an apprentice, it is important that when drafting the required agreement or contract, care is taken to ensure that you have the requisite ability to terminate the relationship - as you would when drafting any employment contract.

If you require advice or assistance with drafting apprenticeship agreements or any other contract of employment, EmployEasily can help. Find out more about our approach to drafting and updating contracts of employment here.

Employment Contract Legal Advice, UK

If you need advice or assistance regarding apprenticeship agreements or contracts, or any other employment contract, employment law or HR matters, contact EmployEasily Legal Services today. We serve employers throughout the UK, from Inverness to London, and can help you make sure the employment relationships you form comply with the law, allowing you to focus on the running of your business. Contact us today on 0800 612 4772 for a free, no obligation consultation.




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