Skip to content

Overcoming the Functional Skills Hurdle to Futureproof Talent

3 minute read

By Stacey Hayes Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University

Degree apprenticeships have become an increasingly popular option for upskilling over the past few years, explains Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University. In fact, according to Government statistics, degree apprenticeships have grown by 9% over the past year, with the number of people opting for an apprenticeship doubling in the past decade. Part of this can be attributed to the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy, an incentive for businesses to encourage employees to upskill in a market that is facing a widening skills gap.

The Levy supports businesses in funding employees who want to grow their skillsets and progress in their career through apprenticeships. This can be particularly valuable for those who didn’t attend university straight out of school, either due to not having the right qualifications or funding.

Opening up access to education is becoming increasingly important in a market where the skills gap is continuing to grow. The Levy helps to level out the playing field, for both employers and employees. It enables businesses to offer training and development opportunities at no cost, and it affords every employee with the opportunity to progress higher on the career ladder, by removing the need for learners to fund their own studies and enabling them to continue to work while studying.

Currently, to qualify for an apprenticeship via the Government’s Levy, learners will need to meet minimum English and maths skills requirements, or commit to the functional skills certificate as part of the learning, if they don’t already have a grade four or above GCSE equivalent. This is so apprentices learn essential literacy and numeracy skills, in line with the Government’s skills agenda.

However, for some, this functional skills requirement is posing a key barrier to apprenticeship learning and, as such, it can form a barrier for businesses seeking to futureproof their talent.


When trying to open up access to education through the Levy and apprenticeship learning, the functional skills requirement can be a big hurdle.

Meeting the functional skills requirement can be difficult for some learners, especially those who didn’t enjoy school. And if they’re struggling to get the functional skills certificate, it can also deter some from pursuing apprenticeship opportunities in the first place.


There are some steps businesses can take to ensure the apprenticeships they’re offering are open to all employees and are helping underrepresented groups eager to progress in their careers.

Firstly, businesses should look to partner with an education provider that can support learners in gaining their functional skills certificate if they don’t already have one. To maximise the value of the Levy, businesses should look towards education providers that offer this training as part of the apprenticeship course, such as Arden University, as the costs can then be drawn down from the Levy.

To futureproof today’s talent, continual learning and development is incredibly important. As such, it’s also important that businesses have a learning and development champion at their workplace. This will ensure learners are getting the support they need, as well as help to promote the courses and learning opportunities on offer. Balancing education while working can be challenging, so having a support group through the employer, and a separate one through the education provider, is vital.

Degree apprenticeships aren’t just ideal for those who want to earn while learning, they’re also perfect for those who didn’t have the opportunity or access to education at a younger age. To futureproof talent, and retain skilled workers, more businesses should be looking into how they can use apprenticeships to support their staff to upskill and earn more. Ensuring they partner with an education provider that can help with gaining the functional skills required is an important place to start for success.

Keep up to date with the latest events, resources and articles.

Sign-up for the Engage Employee Newsletter