Forwarder association BIFA has welcomed news that the UK government is expanding access to an apprenticeship service to small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

Robert Keen, Director General of the trade association, explained that 90% of BIFA corporate members are SMEs that do not qualify as levy-payers and have had restricted access to the apprenticeship service to date.

Keen says: “The news that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (EFSA) is now expanding access to the apprenticeship service will be welcomed by companies within our membership who are non-levy payers as they will now have greater ownership, visibility and involvement with apprenticeships, funding and access to a wider range of high-quality training providers.

“This means that SMEs within our membership will have greater control over the apprenticeships with which they engage, and could lead to a significant increase in the number of individuals enrolling on the International Freight Forwarding Specialist apprenticeship, in which BIFA had a significant role prior to its launch in 2018.”

The early transition period through until March will be an initial test phase, during which time the EFSA will undertake large scale testing, seeking feedback from smaller employers and training providers.

During the transition EFSA will continue to run contracts with training providers so smaller employers have a choice around how they access apprenticeship funding, joining the apprenticeship service when they feel they are ready.

During the test phase, additional funding will be made available for up to 15,000 new starts through the service.

Meanwhile, the association has also reminded members of the looming deadline by which they can apply for funding from a £16m grant scheme to prepare for Brexit.

Originally announced by the government in October 2019, the scheme represents an additional round of funding for employee training and IT improvements for customs intermediaries, traders and hauliers that make customs declarations to help them prepare ahead of Brexit.

Applicants only have until January 17, 2020, to register with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) – which is administering the grants for HMRC – with applications closing on January 31 2020, or earlier if funding is fully allocated.

BIFA says the grants could be used to support a business that is extending and taking on new staff, or to help train an existing employee to start completing customs declarations for the company.

Training can be delivered by an external provider, or an in-house trainer.

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