The Apprenticeships scheme is up for an overhaul with the Chancellor’s budget announcement that contributions for non levy-paying organisations will be halved. The reduction in training payments comes as part of a wider £695 million package to support apprenticeships, and follows news that greater flexibility over the use of funds is also being introduced.
It’s probably fair to say that the levy has had something of a lukewarm reception from employers so far, with take-up below expected levels. But there are also plenty of examples of companies who have embraced the scheme are finding it a great way to nurture new talent or build the skills of their existing workforce.
So if you are tempted by the apprenticeship route, what are the key issues you need to consider and what do you need to do to set yourself up for success?
1. Think outside the box
There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding apprenticeships, with many still believing they are only suitable for the more traditional vocational occupations like plumbing or hairdressing. Today’s picture is, however, very different, with apprenticeships now covering more than 170 industries and 1500 job roles. They remain a great first step for young people entering the workforce, but more advanced levels are now also available and a growing number of organisations are using them to help develop existing staff. There are higher level apprenticeships in fields like HR, for example, while Degree Apprenticeships, leading to a Bachelors or Masters in areas like management, digital, legal and accountancy, have recently been introduced. There is a wealth of information, advice and resources out there to help employers get to grips with the detailed practicalities of how apprenticeships operate (see resources at the end of this article).
2. Make a business case
If the organisation is to make the most of apprenticeships, there needs to be support and commitment from the very top. Is there a strong, well-established business case which HR can use to make sure any scheme gets endorsement from senior leaders? There are the obvious benefits of being able to ‘grow your own’ and develop the skills the business needs now and in the future. But apprenticeships can also help organisations attract and retain talent, build engagement and improve innovation and productivity. Research has shown, for example, that 66 per cent of employers using apprenticeships have experienced improvements in staff morale, while 70 per cent of organisations have seen improvements in the goods and services they offer.
3. Make apprenticeships part of the bigger picture
In its report ‘Apprenticeships that Work’, the CIPD stresses the importance of not using apprenticeships as a stand-alone training intervention. To be truly successful, it advises, they need to be embedded in the overall workforce planning process. What skills will the business need in the future and how might apprenticeships help you build them? What kind of roles might apprentices move onto once their training is complete, and how do these jobs fit into the organisation’s longer-term growth plans? Employers who think strategically and make apprenticeships part of the bigger picture are more likely to reap the benefits and get a return on their investment.
4. Review the options for training provider
It goes without saying that finding the right training provider to partner with is critical to the success of any apprenticeship programme. You can find a list of approved training providers on the gov.uk website (just search for apprenticeships). Make sure the provider can meet your specific needs and deliver learning that is job specific and transferable. Choosing a provider who fits with the company culture and approach and is willing to develop a close working relationship is also key. Once you find the right one, it’s best practice to draw up a service level agreement that outlines responsibilities and deliverables on both sides.
5. Set aside time for the paperwork
As with any government-funded scheme, there will be paperwork to complete and steps that need to be followed in order to ensure you get the funding you anticipated. There are some useful resources on the government website, and your training provider should be able to help you understand what you need to do.
6. Plan internal support
Supporting apprentices through their training is vital, particularly if they are young entrants who are new to the workforce. Line managers have a pivotal role to play, and they will need to be both willing and equipped to support people in their team throughout their learning journey. Managers need to be prepared to meet regularly to review progress and to be on hand to provide mentoring and advice when needed. This doesn’t just apply to young entrants. It’s equally true for existing, more experienced staff who may need support with balancing work and study or getting back into a learning mind-set, if it’s been some time since they’ve done any training. The support shouldn’t stop when the training is over. Companies need to provide ongoing mentoring to make sure apprentices are able to apply their learning in the workplace and can continue to grow with the business.
Further information and advice is available from:
Gov.uk (search for apprenticeships for a comprehensive list of resources)
Examples of success stories
CIPD report: ‘The Apprenticeship Levy: A Guide for HR and L&D Professionals’ https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/people/routes-work/apprenticeship-levy-guide
CIPD report: ‘Apprenticeships that Work’