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Trailblazer Apprenticeships - The Facts

Trailblazer Apprenticeships. Wherever I go these days I am asked about them. Until recently I am not sure I had the answers. However, the fog is beginning to lift and it is clear that there are lots of opportunities to be had. Here are my thoughts on what they might be for employers, training providers and awarding organisations - as well as some ideas on how Open Awards might be able to help.

What are Trailblazer Apprenticeships?

To understand the opportunities it is first of important to be clear on what they are. These are a new style of apprenticeship currently being developed and promoted by the government that replaces the old style apprenticeship SASE frameworks that were based around qualification frameworks.

Ministers want 3 million apprentices in the next parliament and they see these as the vehicle for this. In the trailblazer system employers work together to design the standards and assessment plans for apprenticeships in their sector. This means that they are responsible for define the skills, knowledge and behaviour that they require for their future workforce. This clear link to employers is designed to make apprenticeship training, subsidised by the government, more responsive and reflective of employer need. These new standards no longer need to link to qualifications (though they can if the employer wishes), but must culminate in an external graded assessment that is delivered by a registered assessment organisation.


If you are an employer with the need for an apprenticeship then your needs are centre stage in these apprenticeship reforms. There are a number of things you can do to get involved:

  • Help develop standards for your sector

    You will need to check the standards that are currently available and being developed to see if there is anything under development for your sector. If a development is already in progress then you can contact the group lead to enquire about getting involved. If there is nothing being developed then you could think about setting up a group to develop the standards needed for your area.

  • Focus a new standard to meet your business need

    If a trailblazer standard is already available for your sector then you might want to ensure that it covers requirements specific to your business. The new standards are generic to ensure that they can be used in a range of employer settings. This means you will need to work with your training provider to get all the content, which is unique to you, covered. An excellent way of doing this is through creating a qualification covering these skills which can be delivered as part of the training. It will mean the learners will have to cover and be assessed on all the agreed content.

  • Commission an Assessment Organisation

    An apprentice must be signed off by an independent third party in order to complete their training. As an employer you are free to choose any organisation recognised on a government register to do this.

Training Providers

If you currently deliver the old style apprenticeships then you are probably unsure what all these changes mean for you. Here are some of the pluses of the new system:

  • Less time assessing, more time teaching

    The new standards put a great deal of focus on the summative end assessment, as distinct to the old style qualifications which focused on the collection of naturally occurring evidence to prove that the standard has been met. This is going to free up all the time that had previously been used managing the assessment process to use for teaching and developing learners. This should enable you to adapt your courses and help deliver the intended impact on the business for the employer

  • More flexible funding

    In many cases the amount of funding attached to an apprenticeship standard has increased in the switch over to the new framework. It is also less prescriptive in terms of delivery, you are able to spend the money on what you and the employers agree is best for their learners. You can choose any qualification you wish to support the delivery of the standard and are not limited to those approved by the Skills Funding Agency.

Awarding Organisations

Although the new standards do not require qualifications, there is still an important role for awarding organisations such as Open Awards in supporting this policy initiative. These are some of the things we would be able to bring to the table:

  • Supporting the development of standards

    Where employers are working on the development of new standards, we are able to provide a secretariat and project management service to the group to support development.

  • Advising on the development of assessment plans

    Once standards have been signed off employers are required to develop an assessment plan which details how the standard must be met. We have years of experience in developing assessments and would be happy to support employers in developing these guidelines with specific input from our team of experts.

  • Developing qualifications

    Qualifications may be optional, but sometimes they can be a great solution. They work particularly really well in covering the knowledge and understanding components. As already mentioned, they can also be used by employers to customise sections of the standard and ensure content specific to them is covered. Either way we are happy to support the development of qualifications.

  • Offering our services as an assessment organisation

    These provide the function of carrying out the final assessment against the apprenticeship standard and signing the learner off if they pass. As an Ofqual regulated awarding organisation, we are well placed to offer this service and would be happy to talk to employers and training providers about how we can meet their needs.

If you are working, or looking to work, on a trailblazer apprenticeship and would like support from Open Awards then please contact me or a member of the business relationship team to see how we can help.


Ben Rockliffe, Head of Business and Strategy, Open Awards. 0151 494 2072.

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