What are functional skills for apprentices?

Explore our employer's guide to English and maths training during an apprenticeship.

Understanding functional skills in apprenticeships

What are Functional Skills qualifications?

As part of the programme, most apprentices need to achieve qualifications in English and maths, these are known as ‘Functional Skills’.

Functional Skills enable apprentices to learn essential literacy and numeracy skills they can apply in everyday life, supporting them to grow in confidence and heighten their ability to learn.

A key characteristic of functional skills is that they are based on a problem-solving approach. An Apprentice who is ‘functionally skilled’ can use and apply their knowledge of English and maths to tackle problems that arise in their life and work.

“Functional skills are the fundamental, applied skills in English and mathematics, which help people to gain the most from life, learning and work.” (Ofqual, 2012)

The benefits of a functionally skilled team

Making sure your business has a functional workforce means your employees will be able to apply skills to different contexts, take on challenges, use their initiative, work independently, and realise that tasks often need persistence, thought and reflection. Business benefits include:

  • Improved efficiency; employees will work more quickly, accurately, and flexibly, this can reduce costs and increase productivity.
  • Better communications; employees will perform well in teams, participate in discussions, and listen and react appropriately.
  • Customer satisfaction; by providing friendly customer service, accurate order processing and the speedy resolution of complaints, custom will be retained and gained.
  • Increased confidence and motivation; employees will adapt well to change and have the underpinning skills to develop in other job areas.
  • Better recruitment and staff retention; if you invest in learning, you will attract a high calibre of job applicants. Staff turnover will reduce, experienced staff will be retained, and recruitment costs saved.

“Functional Skills (English and maths) are often seen as challenging and a potential barrier to our colleagues wishing to start an apprenticeship. Information, advice and guidance before joining, plus reassurance and coaching through an apprenticeship is vital to support learners through to completion, but also giving them the skills to progress. Whitbread colleagues gain confidence both at home and work enabling them to make better decisions for our guests and ultimately delivering an improved guest experience.”  

Richard Brooks Harley, Apprenticeship Delivery Manager at Whitbread

The Skills for Life Survey by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (2011)1 found that a significant number of adults in England still do not have the English and maths skills needed for work and life.

Around 15 per cent struggle with English, and almost a quarter have difficulty with everyday maths. These statistics are echoed by employers who frequently report the need for better skills in the workplace.

Depending on your type of organisation, this lack of skill can impact:

  • Production levels
  • Service delivery
  • Ability to meet targets
  • Reputation
  • Growth
  • Profit
  • Competitive edge

Supporting an employee, on an apprenticeship, with Functional Skills training, offers the opportunity to develop well-rounded, skilled individuals who have the confidence and ability to directly benefit your business.

“As part of our apprenticeship programmes for upskilling colleagues, many of our Support Workers complete Functional Skills modules to support their development – modules which present challenges and rewards to learners and the organisation.

Colleagues have commented on the positive impact of Functional Skills training on their anxiety relating to English and mathematics, providing them with the confidence to perform better, seek out new opportunities and believe in their abilities to progress into management roles.

Upskilling our frontline adult care colleagues with English and maths skills builds resilience and independence, providing the best lives possible to the people we support.”

Community Integrated Care

Benefits of functional skills for apprentices

Developing and improving core English and maths skills not only supports your employees within their role, but it also supports them in their personal life too. These skills are fully transferable and provide a fully holistic learning experience. Additional personal benefits include:

  • Greater job satisfaction due to increased autonomy, variety and work pride.
  • Reduced stress and more confidence.
  • The ability to take advantage of promotion and training opportunities, possibly leading to increased earnings of up to 10%.
  • Improved skills to support in their personal lives, like managing finances more efficiently, benefitting from new technologies or helping with children’s homework.

“I like the virtual classrooms a lot as I'm a slow thinker when it comes to maths. I never feel hurried, and everything is always explained really well.”

Lifetime Apprentice

Supporting apprentices with their functional skills

It’s important your apprentice is given the time and support they need for their Functional Skills training, assessment preparation and the assessments themselves. Here are some ways you can support:

  • Give your apprentice the opportunity to practice and apply skills they have learnt.
  • Allow your apprentice dedicated time to complete their independent study, ensuring they aren’t interrupted where possible to allow them to focus.
  • Be flexible when your apprentice needs to book an assessment. The timings of these may not always be flexible with your business or shift timings, so it’s important to be understanding and accommodating where possible.
  • Be aware of sessions and visits your apprentice has booked, encourage them to attend, and keep them motivated.
  • Be actively involved in your apprentice’s development journey and encourage them as much as possible with their learning to support them to succeed.

Need any additional support or have questions about Functional Skills? We can help.

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Functional Skills provide colleagues with the knowledge and understanding to help them not only in their career, but also personal lives. They really can change lives and give confidence to help colleagues do things they never thought possible. This includes their children’s homework, working out change, checking a bill and even writing an email.