Stephen Burkes, Director of Sussex Skills Solutions, talks about changes to apprenticeships and explains how employers can benefit from them

Since its inception in 2016 as a joint venture between Sussex Downs College and Sussex Coast College Hastings, Sussex Skills Solutions has been making a name for itself as a leading apprenticeship and skills training provider in Sussex. Nearly one year on, Director Stephen Burkes explains the new apprenticeship levy for employers and talks about the progress already made and the next steps for the company.

How will the face of apprenticeships change this year?

The new apprenticeship reforms change everything. Apprenticeships have always had a very strong brand identity with the public but the funding rules and limitations around the level people could study up to created a glass ceiling in terms of the real impact this qualification route way could offer. Also, although Apprenticeships have always been excellent for vocational training, they never offered the range and academic level to allow for continued learning progression once the learner was in an established role. These new reforms mean that employees can now commit to a programme of study, right up to Masters Level, while staying in employment and earning a salary, making apprenticeships and skills training a very attractive prospect.

What is the main agenda for the latter part of 2017 for the company?

When we launched we set out to be the go-to organisation to help train staff and provide apprenticeship and recruitment solutions to employers across Sussex. We have made great strides in achieving this, through the work of the employer engagement teams based at both colleges. We have increased our apprenticeship volumes by 28% year on year and opened up a new pre-employment training division linked to a number of key employers. Our goals for the remainder of this year are to launch a number of scale contracts we have won and broaden the range of our qualifications offer while also increasing the number of higher level apprenticeships we can deliver.

What is the main piece of advice you would give to employers preparing their businesses for the future?

Succession planning is a key area that employers need to prepare for and that we can help with. Demographic data shows Sussex has an aging workforce and employers need to address this by preparing the next wave of managers to drive their businesses forward. We work directly with employers on the design of management programmes using the apprenticeship programme as appropriate to reduce the cost burden of this essential developmental work.

Why should companies use Sussex Skills Solutions?

We understand the dynamics of our local employers and understand the commercial pressures they face. We access government funding to support the training we offer, reducing the financial burden for our employer partners while ensuring any contributions are limited and competitively priced. We actively engage with the Local Enterprise Partnerships in Sussex to ensure we can advise on the political direction in terms of economic strategy and help our employer partners stay ahead of the curve in terms of their long term planning.

With Sussex Skills Solutions, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We have the in-house expertise to develop qualifications aligned to our employers’ needs and the significant resources and facilities of two colleges, yet we operate with the approach and flexibility of a private training provider.

There’s more to Sussex Skills Solutions than matching apprentices with employers. What additional services do you offer?

In addition to guiding employers on long term planning and policy development we are also offering additional training services including a range of mandatory compliance training such as Health and Safety, complaints resolution, manual handling and IT training. We aim to be viewed as a leading corporate training solutions provider as we continue to work with employers of all sizes and sector areas.

What’s next for Sussex Skills Solutions?

We want to continue pushing the brand to local and national employers based in Sussex. We invite employers of all sizes to get in touch to discuss the new apprenticeship reforms that took effect in May this year and what opportunities this creates for their businesses. We are also very pleased to be continuing our relationship with Brighton & Hove Albion football club where we sponsor a lounge at the Amex Stadium. It’s been quite a year for both of us!

Sussex Skills Solutions: 030 300 38241, www.sussexskills


The new Apprenticeship Levy: key details employers need to know

New funding changes introduced this year affects all employers in England. This will require large employers to contribute to a new Apprenticeship levy.

  • By 2018, all employers who train their staff or employ an Apprentice will be encouraged to use a new Apprenticeship Service Account to pay for the training or Apprenticeship qualification.
  • If you are thinking about training an Apprentice, new funding changes now apply. The amount you pay will depend on how many employees your business has and the type of Apprenticeship programme. 

Employers with less than 50 employees;

  • If you choose to employ an Apprentice aged 16-18 then you will not be required to contribute to the cost of the Apprenticeship.
  • If you hire an Apprentice who is 19+, the Government will ask you to make a 10% contribution towards the cost of the qualification.
  • If you have less than 50 employees you will not have to pay into the Apprenticeship Levy and you won’t need to start using the new Apprenticeship Service Account until 2018. 

I am an employer with more than 50 employees;

  • You will be asked to make a 10% contribution towards the cost of an Apprenticeship, whatever the Apprentice’s age. The Government will cover the other 90%, and you will also be encouraged to start using the Apprenticeship Service Account by 2018.

I am a large employer with a payroll in excess of £3m

  • You will pay 0.5% of your payroll into your Apprenticeship Service Account for any value above £3million. You will not be required to pay 0.5% on any value up to £3million.
  • The Government will then apply a 10% top-up to the amount you have paid, meaning that for every £1 you pay into your account, you will have £1.10 to spend on Apprenticeships and training in England. Your levy payment will expire after 24 months, so make sure to spend the funds before they disappear. You will be able to access your apprenticeship levy funds from May 2017.

In order to pay into your Apprenticeship Service Account, you will need to create an account and register. You can do this at

Apprenticeship Case Studies

Billy Cleaver

18, from Hailsham

Chandlers BMW

Chandlers invests a lot into their apprentices, treating them as they would any other employed member of staff. The progression opportunities and training offered are one of the best, and at just 18, Billy is focused on the job at hand.

He says: “You’ve got to see an apprenticeship as an open opportunity. Alongside my apprenticeship I have been training as a Product Genius at the Mini Academy. There are brilliant training programmes inside the business including an introduction to sales training. That’s where I am right now; I’m finishing off my apprenticeship, continuing my Product Genius training, and then taking the first steps into sales. It helps you mature from a child to a young adult. I’ve changed so much since starting my apprenticeship.”

Tom Ramsay

22, from St Leonards-on-Sea


Tom is currently studying a Higher Apprenticeship and working for manufacturing company, Technoturn. Tom joined Technoturn in 2013 and has studied a Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeship with the company. He is now studying a Level 4 Higher Engineering Apprenticeship and produces high precision machined components, which Technoturn supply to many high tech sectors including, Aerospace, Defence, Motor Sport, Sensors, Opto-Electronics and Lasers.

“The best thing about the apprenticeship is being able to see how things work, rather than being told how they work. I’ve always enjoyed learning while actually doing something, so getting hands-on with my job means that I am able learn so much and find it really enjoyable.”

Harry Thorpe

20, from Eastbourne

The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne

Harry worked two part-time jobs as a student, one of which was at Eastbourne’s Grand Hotel. University was on the horizon but when a position for a full-time bartender became available alongside an apprenticeship, he chose this route into the hospitality profession. Harry became bar supervisor in March 2016 and completed his apprenticeship in February this year, earning his Food & Beverage Level 2 Diploma.

He says: “I never looked at myself as an apprentice, which I think is important. You’re an employee in the workplace; you look for respect and you get the work done. I treated my apprenticeship like a normal job and the qualification is a bonus on the side.”