Groups of employers, termed ‘trailblazer groups’, develop new apprenticeship standards. Trailblazer groups also have a role in the subsequent reviews of their apprenticeship standards, when we check if they are still required and fit-for-purpose.

We expect trailblazer group employers to employ apprentices in the occupation once it is developed and to market the apprenticeship standard actively once it is approved for delivery.

Trailblazer groups must meet certain requirements. These are explained on this page and there is a link to our support and expectations guide, which details how trailblazer groups and the Institute need to work together to develop apprenticeships effectively. We also outline some ways of working based on our work with existing trailblazer groups.

Once approved to develop an apprenticeship standard, we would expect to support you through the full process until it is ‘approved for delivery.’ However, we also cover below what happens when things don’t work out.

1. Trailblazer group requirements

Our requirements for a trailblazer group are detailed in the left hand column of the table below. The information you provide via your relationship manager (RM) will need to cover these requirements. The actions in the right hand column indicate how we will test your trailblazer group against these requirements.

Trailblazer group requirements The Institute will assess whether this criterion has been met by:

The trailblazer must be a group of employers recognised by the Institute and reflective of those who employ people in the occupation, including small employers

 ✔  Analysing the types (for example size, sector, etc) of employers who employ people in the occupation and scrutinising evidence that the trailblazer group membership reflects this

Trailblazer groups are autonomous and self-forming. However, we want to ensure that they are genuinely inclusive and independent and it is therefore important that:

  • there is no admission or membership fee
  • you commit to working inclusively and collaboratively with other employers or trailblazer groups that are interested in developing an apprenticeship standard for the same or related occupations
  • the chair is selected by the members of your trailblazer group and works for an organisation which employs or intends to employ individuals in an occupation relevant to the proposed apprenticeship standard that your trailblazer group is developing
  • your chair has neither a financial interest nor holds a director (or equivalent) position in any organisation that may profit from the training or assessment of apprentices employed in occupations covered by any of the trailblazer group’s apprenticeship standards. This condition applies only to the chair of the trailblazer group. It does not preclude a trailblazer group chair from having a financial interest by virtue of their employment in an organisation that employs individuals in the relevant occupation. The chair will need to confirm that they meet the above requirements. 

Where a current chair is unable to meet the above requirements, we will ask you to select a different chair. Co-chairing is acceptable but both co-chairs must meet the above requirements .

Before you submit an occupation proposal to develop an apprenticeship standard, your RM will ask you to provide information relating to the above requirements along with details of any other organisations involved.

There may be times when we convene employers to form a trailblazer group and in such cases the same requirements will apply.

We recognise that some trailblazer groups work closely together and may collectively appoint an over-arching employer chair to act on matters of importance to all their groups. This is acceptable as long each individual trailblazer within such a group also has a chair that meets our criteria. We are happy to include any over-arching chairs in communications relating to a particular apprenticeship standard, where the chair for that trailblazer group identifies them as an additional contact.

2. Trailblazer groups and the Institute working together

Our support and expectations guide sets out the commitment and collaboration that the Institute and a trailblazer group can reasonably expect from each other. 

It is not a legally binding agreement, but is offered in a supportive spirit, and is intended to make clear to all those involved what is needed to ensure the process is as efficient as possible.

Your primary contact within the Institute will be your RM who will be on hand to support you through the entire apprenticeship standard development process. If you aren’t already working with a RM, please email Enquiries.IFA@education.gov.uk with brief details of the occupation for which you’re considering developing a proposal for an apprenticeship standard, and a RM will contact you.

RMs are aligned to specific routes to enable them to develop greater sector knowledge and help identify potential overlaps between apprenticeship standards.

In the first instance, you RM will help you check that there isn’t already a group working on the same or a similar apprenticeship standard. They can also advise other relevant trailblazer groups about your plans, to help you expand your membership and gain their support where needed.

Beyond that, your RM can:

  • provide advice on policy and process to support you to develop the occupation proposal, design the occupational standard and end-point assessment plan (EPA), and have a funding band assigned and to help you to work through any challenges that arise
  • provide examples of well written and fully compliant occupational standards and EPA plans
  • lead and facilitate ‘workshops’ for the creation of occupational standards and/or EPA plans
  • offer to spend time with an employer to help understand your occupation
  • offer the opportunity to talk to other trailblazer group chairs who have experience of going through our approvals process
  • provide feedback on your draft occupation proposal, occupational standard, EPA plan and funding form
  • act as a ‘critical friend’, providing constructive challenge and suggestions, including lessons learned and examples from other trailblazer groups
  • confirm if your occupation proposal, occupational standard, EPA plan and funding form are ready for submission to us
  • inform you of decisions relating to your submissions and advise you of any further work needed
  • draw on industry expertise from the route panels to help you resolve sector related issues that may arise

Whilst your RM does not have a formal role in our approvals processes, they must confirm that any submission (occupation proposal, occupational standard, EPA plan, funding form) is ready for consideration before you submit it; any submissions made without this will be returned to you.

A number of organisations and consultants offer a variety of support services to trailblazer groups for which they charge a fee. We do not provide financial support for such services. Unless you need to source basic administrative services (which are not provided by us), we discourage you from purchasing fee-paid services because we consider that they are neither necessary nor add value for trailblazer groups. The expert support from our RMs will assist you in the apprenticeship standard development process. Taken together with our online guidance, apprenticeship builder, workshops and webinars (all of which reflect current requirements and process), the support offered by us means that there is generally no need to make use of fee-paid services.

Other support provided via your RM can include:

  • in-house assessment support for your trailblazer group, with those that are developing their first EPA plan having priority
  • webinars for those new to particular stages of the process
  • regular updates on key issues and information relating to trailblazer groups and wider apprenticeship policy

We also have a travel fund to reimburse small employers (that is those with fewer than 50 employees) for the costs involved in traveling to trailblazer group meetings. Our travel fund guide provides details on what can be claimed and how.

3. Ways of working

In our experience, a trailblazer group made up of 10-12 employers is probably sufficient to be representative, whilst ensuring the work of the group is manageable. You can keep other interested employers up-to-date with progress and seek their input and feedback via consultation.

You may wish to engage employer organisations to support the work of the group, such as sector or trade bodies, professional bodies, or industry training boards. They may be able to help you find other employers interested in developing the same apprenticeship standard through a call out to their members.

We suggest you also engage and consult with potential training providers and end-point assessment organisations, especially as you move further along the development process. However, you should ensure that the work of the group remains employer-led and that the employers make all decisions during the development process.

You may want to agree and set out terms of reference for your trailblazer group, including:

  • how often you will meet and where
  • roles and resources
  • who else to involve, at what stage and how

Here are some RM top tips based on our experience of having worked with numerous trailblazer groups since 2013:

  • hold regular meetings or conference calls (at least monthly) to help to ensure momentum and keep the group motivated
  • book meetings at the start of the process for several months ahead to help to maximise attendance
  • meeting for a couple of consecutive days can speed up the process
  • try to keep trailblazer group membership and attendance at meetings consistent, as this avoids having to keep going back over old ground
  • whilst face-to-face meetings are generally more effective, virtual or partially virtual meetings can be useful, for example, to gain sign-off of documents
  • get members of the group to take responsibility for different strands of work
  • form smaller ‘task and finish groups’ to work on the detailed wording of different sections to save time
  • don’t underestimate the work and time involved in getting training provider quotes – start the conversations now

4. Withdrawing Institute support

Once approved to develop an apprenticeship standard, we would expect to support you through the full process until it is ‘approved for delivery.’ However, in exceptional circumstances, we may wish to withdraw our support for a trailblazer group to develop an apprenticeship standard where one or more of the following circumstances arises:

  • scrutiny of the occupational standard or EPA plan reveals content that is irreparably contrary to current requirements (including if requirements have changed since the proposal to develop the apprenticeship standard was agreed), or content that was not agreed when the proposal to develop the apprenticeship standard was approved, and/or the trailblazer group refuses to apply changes requested by us when the proposal was approved
  • the trailblazer group has refused to, or is unable to, comply with our requirements in the development of the occupational standard or EPA plan
  • the trailblazer group is unable to produce a submission within a reasonable timescale (usually not more than six months for each stage of the apprenticeship development process)
  • the trailblazer group no longer has the support of a representative cross-section of employers in the occupational area
  • the trailblazer group refuses to work with other individual employers or groups of employers when requested to do so by us
  • or in any other reasonable situation

If such a scenario develops, your RM will discuss the issue with you prior to any decision being made.