Improved productivity and record investment in skills training: these are the key promises of the new apprenticeship levy, launched in April last year. Contributor Hamish Munro, Organisational Development Coordinator – Civica.
The new levy system was designed to make it easier for companies to take on apprentices and saw the UK government set itself an admirable goal of hitting a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020. While the levy does provide a better support network for companies who truly recognise the power that apprenticeships can have on a business, the onus is on employers to take a creative and proactive stance in actively supporting the scheme.
Why we need apprentices, and why apprentices need us
Part of the challenge of taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the apprenticeship levy is finding a way to use it in both a creative and a constructive way. For us this may mean adapting our in-house management training to be applicable for the apprenticeship scheme and a strong match with our company culture, focusing on running management training as part of apprenticeship courses in the future. This way, as well as continuously working on upskilling people, we can take a proactive approach and watch our new apprentices and existing employees grow together with our business.
We take pride in offering these growth opportunities to our apprentices and are constantly amazed by the drive and hard-working mentality they show. This focus on the way in which businesses can grow alongside their apprentices was reflected in Prime Minister May’s comments when the new levy was announced. She suggested that apprenticeships were now focused on ‘quality over quantity’. After all, it’s not only young individuals that are in need of apprenticeships: employers similarly rely on their employees’ skills and motivation to keep their business growing.
One of the biggest challenges facing employers at the moment, and one which apprenticeships can rectify, is a lack of skills. A report commissioned by The Open University found that 90% of UK organisations had struggled to find workers with the right skills in the past 12 months: apprenticeships could provide the much needed solution. The current technological and political climate demands adaptability and flexibility, skills which are not only encouraged but actively developed through apprenticeship schemes.
However, organisations should also learn how to best allow apprentices to grow during the course of their schemes. In other words, employers must become more finely attuned to apprentices’ needs and tailor their training accordingly. Apprenticeships, much like other forms of education or work experience, are far from ‘one size fits all’.
At Civica, we are taking this challenge on board. Here, apprenticeships are vital for our work culture. Bringing in new talent is not restricted to upping our skills: by taking apprentices on board, we have seen a marked increase in fresh ideas and innovative attitudes, which have all contributed to our existing, diverse culture and helped existing employees to view our work from a new perspective. The breadth of skills and different life experiences that apprentices bring to the company is invaluable.
We’ve had the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds, of different ages, with different views and perspectives, and this has undoubtedly helped our company grow.
Will we see more apprentices come forward?
With university fees continuously on the rise, some young people do not now consider higher education as a viable option. Exposure to real-life work experience and skills training is becoming more and more valuable to employers looking to harness and promote talent growth through the levy fund. In the past few years, great strides have been made towards destigmatising apprenticeships. However, this is an ongoing effort that must be supported by employers from different sectors, whether that is tech, retail or the creative industry.
The recent drop in apprenticeship uptake does not spell doom by any means. In fact, more people are now taking advantage of higher-level apprenticeships in sectors such as technology and marketing. Through adopting innovative approaches to the apprenticeship levy, today’s businesses have the opportunity to ‘give back’ to both existing and future employees and develop a highly-skilled workforce for the future.