Trailblazer Apprenticesh​ip Standards

Following a review of Apprenticeships in 2012, the Government announced wide-reaching reforms to the way Apprenticeships were to be created, delivered and funded in the future. Out of this announcement, the term ‘Trailblazers’ was applied to eight employer-led groups who were tasked with redesigning the existing Apprenticeship Frameworks in their sectors, creating a simple two-page document that highlighted the skills and knowledge employers felt an apprentice needs to demonstrate competency in their job role.
Apprenticeship Standards differ significantly from existing Frameworks. The most notable change is the requirement that an apprentice’s competence must be independently assessed at the end of an Apprenticeship Standard, and that this end-point assessment should be graded. 

In May 2014 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced that a new funding system would be piloted by the eight Trailblazers, with the intention that employers would not only control the content of Apprenticeship Standards, but would also be directly funded to offer them. After major concerns were raised as to the impact of the proposed system, especially on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the funding reforms were tempered to ensure employers of all sizes and in all sectors could be involved in the Apprenticeship Programme.

Further reforms

Following the election of a majority Government in 2015, further reforms were announced to meet a target of three million Apprenticeship starts over the next five years. Most notable amongst these reforms are a proposed Apprenticeship Levy, which would see all large organisations pay a levy into an Apprenticeship fund. Under the proposed scheme, organisations will be able to use their contribution to fund and deliver Apprenticeships themselves, or the levy will go into a ‘pot’ to support other organisations, especially SMEs, to offer Apprenticeships. The legal protection of the term ‘Apprenticeship’ to ensure high quality, further emphasised the importance of Apprenticeships in addressing the skills gaps identified by employers, as well as reducing unemployment.   

The intention is that all Apprenticeship Frameworks will be replaced by Standards by the beginning of the 2017/18 academic year; however Trailblazer groups work at different speeds based on the size of their membership and the complexity of the Standard they are creating. Whilst Standards, and their accompanying Assessment Plans, are being created, existing Frameworks will continue as they are. Once approved by Government, Standards will run alongside their equivalent Frameworks for a period of time, possibly until the start of the 2017/18 academic year when they are replaced by Apprenticeship Standards.


The new funding system for Trailblazers is explained in detail on the Apprenticeship Funding page of the website. Foremost amongst concerns about the new funding system is that employers, especially SMEs, will not be able to afford the up-front cash contribution required before an Apprenticeship Standard begins. To mitigate this, employers can negotiate a payment schedule for the cash contribution which spreads the cost over the Apprenticeship duration. Furthermore, a series of employer incentive payments are available that in some circumstances will see employers receiving more money back in incentives than they pay as their cash contribution:

  • an additional payment will be made to employers with less than 50 employees
  • an additional payment will be made to employers that employ apprentices aged 16-18
  • an additional payment will be made on completion of the standard
How Apprenticeship Standards work

Below is an example of the Apprenticeship Standard journey, from the employer selecting an apprentice right through to completion of the Standard for the apprentice, training provider and employer. For illustrative purposes the price agreed between employer and Training Provider for this Standard is £3000. ​

 How Apprenticeships work