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Apprenticeships Roundtable Part 1 – Roundtable Report

Antony Bacon
, UK Apprentice Manager – Cable & Wireless
Ross Cowie, Training manager, UK & Ireland – IHG
Jane Daly, Head of Learning & Development – Marks & Spencer
Sue Flavin, Learning & Development Operations Manager – Skanska UK Plc
Ben Hansford, National Account Director – National Apprenticeship Service
Donna Hamilton, Head of Group Learning – Royal Bank of Scotland Group
Kirsty Huntington, Internal Talent Manager – Cable & Wireless Worldwide
Chris McCormack, Head of Learning, Retail Wealth & Ulster – Royal Bank of Scotland
Nick McGlashan, Apprenticeship Manager, Tesco Stores Ltd
Paula Michelle Leach, Learning & Development Manager – Ford Motor Company
Richard O’Flynn, Talent & Leadership Development Manager – Santander UK
Andy Smyth, Accredited Programmes Development Manager, TUI UK & Ireland
Jeff Uden, Regional HR Manager – Iceland
Matt Tudor, Operations Director, Adult Learning & Careers, Tribal
Barry Brooks, Strategic Development Director, Education, Tribal
Margaret Wood, Training & Development, ARAMARK

The apprenticeship framework is at the centre of the coalition Government’s plans for increasing occupational skills for the 18-24 age group as well as providing re-skilling training for people made redundant due to the economic downturn. At a time when the Wolf Report has challenged the quality, as well as the relevance, of many vocational qualifications, the role of apprenticeships is being promoted as a significant driver of the future prospects of UK business and employment. Government has put great emphasis on the apprenticeship agenda and has set very ambitious targets for apprenticeship recruitment over the next few years. But given the current economic climate, can businesses afford to divert reduced resources and budgets away from the core focus of business into apprenticeship programmes? Furthermore, are current apprenticeship frameworks really ideal training solutions for large employers? Now that the increase in University tuition fees has sunk in, what is the likely impact on recruitment and the longer term prognosis for employers, and does this present an imposition and an unwanted responsibility for employers, or an opportunity?

Ross Cowie: We were already reviewing how to implement apprenticeship programmes into our resourcing, learning and development strategy in the future, in such a way to maximise efficiency. The publication of the Skills Strategy in Q4 of 2010, followed by subsequent announcements from the Government, represented an opportunity, which supports the integration of apprenticeships into workforce development.

Nick, give us an idea of where Tesco is with its apprenticeship programme?

Nick McGlashan: We have been offering a Retail Skills Apprenticeship programme since 2004 to our existing staff. In 2009 we offered 850 apprentice places, 2000 this year, and will increase this to 3000 next year. We see the programme as a development opportunity for our store staff. Their feedback has told us that their confidence increases and they understand more about the business as a result of completing the program.

Chris, you’ve just joined RBS, I’m assuming apprenticeships is unchartered territory in the finance sector.

Chris McCormack: There’s a reconnection opportunity with apprenticeships and I think the banking industry hasn’t really grasped it and pushed forward enough, and the time is now right. I think you mentioned earlier in terms of threats and opportunity and certainly I feel, especially with my experience at BT, that it’s an opportunity, but we must make sure the quality is right.

All things considered, increased unemployment numbers, increased tuition fees, there’s bound to considerable increase in volumes in those seeking apprenticeship places.

Richard O’Flynn: We have been running a programme for high achieving A level students for the last three years and the goodwill we have received internally and externally has been fantastic, the opportunity to help the segment of population is absolutely there, but I think it’s the quality controls that need to be robust.

Ross Cowie: As we enter into this pilot, it’s about using our current learning and development programme and mapping to the National Occupational Standards. This will enable all of our people to achieve nationally recognised qualifications and, with functional skills, will raise standards in numeracy and literacy.

Barry Brooks: The increase in university fees will make a lot of young people think very, very hard about options. From an employer’s point of view, there is a real opportunity now of being able to invest in talent through apprenticeships.

So a university education is not preparing students for the working world?

Barry Brooks: Not entirely, it’s about preparing them for life. The world is changing and I think you will get more people not wanting a large debt from university and will be seriously considering vocational training, and so it is for people like you here today to construct an apprenticeship framework that is appropriate and fit for purpose.

Andy Smyth: One of the saddest things that I have seen over the last few years is the number of graduates that are applying for our level 2 apprenticeship programmes, I think that this is a travesty. What is even worse is that in many cases they are no better than people that genuinely join us as apprentices. I would say that this is absolutely an opportunity; the challenge is making sure that you do not grow the size of programmes to just hit targets. You do need a critical mass, and it is not volume that damages programmes, it is volume that is uncontrolled that breaks programmes. We use our apprenticeship programmes as a differentiator between us and our competitors.

Ben Hansford: We want to support well designed, well run programmes, and in fact the quality assurance is there to make sure the programmes are run well and yes, we have stretching targets in terms of participation, but we want to encourage the quality in that. In fact, compared to 2008/09, apprenticeship achievements increased by almost 20 percent in 2009/10, to 171,500; and the number of Advanced Level apprenticeships rose by 31.4 percent to 59,400. I would say the HR Directors that I’m talking to are using it not as a replacement to graduate programmes, but as an alternative recruitment strand to diversify the recruitment into their business.

Ross Cowie: Rather than running a UK graduate programme in isolation, we are now running an EMEA graduate programme. So we’re still recruiting graduates, but from across the whole of Europe, Middle East and Africa, with UK graduates being part of that programme. This raises the level of talent and is partly driven by the scenario that you’ve just described.

Barry Brooks: If you are looking to recruit, and develop that talent pipeline, then why wait three years? It’s not necessarily where they start in your development, it’s the progression opportunities they have whether they come in at 16, 18 or at 21.

Jane, M&S is a highly attractive graduate destination.

Jane Daly: It’s really popular, we have over 200 Graduate opportunities per year, and applications are always oversubscribed and of an extremely high quality. We feel very privileged about the quality and reputation of our scheme. I think we’re very good at tracking them through their career, and M&S is a broad business, so the opportunities can be global and extremely diverse.

And what about apprenticeships, school leavers for example?

Jane Daly: Yes, we already employee school leavers and we are looking at apprenticeships. We are on what we call our discovery phase. We have looked at apprenticeships previously but it is always good to review. We have been very clear with the Government partners involved that the current scheme has a number of management and administration challenges which would need to be significantly upgraded for us to successfully launch within M&S. We recruit through a number of other diverse recruitment schemes too, such as our Marks & Start programme. So for us, it is all about balance, and we are looking at all of our recruitment routes. If we went down the route of apprenticeships we would want to make sure it enhanced the view of careers across the retail industry and added long-term benefits.

Quantity and quality controls are issues.

Antony Bacon: One of the changes that we’ve seen over the last two years is a much higher academic level of candidates applying for our level 3 apprenticeships, for whom level 3’s are possibly not stretching enough. We could put them on a level 3, but I feel we may be missing an opportunity, because if we can maximise their output then we benefit as a business, and they remain engaged. So something we’re looking at now is delivering higher apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships today will need to be more flexible to accommodate up-skilling, changes in technology and transferable skills.

Richard O’Flynn: We’ve launched a career paths approach because we were seeing the blockage, we’ve got all these individuals that we’ve taken on two year programmes, possibly rotated or possibly they’ve stayed in a technical specialism depending on their background, and then as you naturally move through an organisation there are less of the senior roles available and it is about people like auditors, finance and risk professionals seeing that there was uses for their transferrable skill sets, knowledge and background.

Antony Bacon: We’ve also found an issue with areas of the business not wanting to take apprentices, simply because they only have entry level roles and people just come in and move on to other roles very quickly. That presents a problem for them because just as the new starters get good at the job, (3-6 months) they leave again. Hiring managers believe this is a reason not to have apprenticeships but, when we show them that the apprentice will be required to stay for the duration of the programme in order to gain their qualifications, and that we can use that time to develop them properly, for their next career move in our business, then apprenticeships become more attractive on many more levels.

The word apprentice is old fashioned, and may be more associated with traditional skills.

Chris McCormack: We’ve changed the name of our graduate programme to “future leaders programme” and the selection criteria has changed; you don’t have to be a graduate, they could have come through our internal training which will become our own internal apprenticeship programme and the journey that we’re talking about doesn’t have to stop at the end of apprenticeship programme, the next part of the journey could be onto future leaders programme.

Nick, would you concur with this at Tesco?

Nick McGlashan: Apprenticeships help our staff to understand more about our business and increase their self-confidence. The enthusiasm and emotion that we see from our staff when they are presented with their certificates speaks volumes about the impact it has on them. We have always looked to grow talent from within and the apprenticeship programme is another way we can support our staff to develop.

Barry Brooks: With apprenticeships, it’s not just the competence, the technical certificate, it’s the confidence you build in that individual and that’s why I would always lobby Government to invest in employer-led programmes. With that in mind, I would advocate that apprenticeships are not just for school for leavers, they are relevant for all ages.

Margaret Wood: I very much agree, you see people of all age groups who have in some cases completed their first qualification, ever. They wouldn’t necessarily have even applied for an apprenticeship coming in to join an organisation, but getting that encouragement within the organisation has made them feel that they can undertake an apprenticeship.

Paula Leach: It’s Ford’s centennial year in Britain this year and we’ve been hiring apprentices almost all of that time and we’ve had a variety of experiences over the years, and it’s relevant across industry. A lot of our senior managers across the globe started out doing an apprenticeship. I don’t subscribe to the fact that there’s been a U-turn on graduates, I think if your selection criteria are strong enough, you will get the high calibre graduates coming through. So I think there’s real pride in what apprenticeships represent.

Has the apprentice scheme at Ford changed over the last 20 years in terms of, is it more modern, is the approach different and have you got partnerships that sort of thing?

Paula Leach: It changes all the time and it is challenging for a business to keep up with the changes. Of course, there are always technology changes, but what somebody starts out with and where they end up, is pretty much the same. Our business has been building cars and we’ve done that for 100 years.

There’s always talk that schools are failing less academic and disenfranchised students.

Andy Smyth: The reason we have high regard for apprenticeships is directly related to the calibre of people that have passed through our programmes. Over the past five years we have taken more interest in talent than specific entry qualifications, we look at people’s qualities. Having aptitude and capability are more important to us than qualifications. I very much see my role as providing opportunities to people that have the ambition to take them. If you have apprenticeships throughout your operational activity and everybody is working at those levels, you have got people who should, as long as you are managing your programme correctly, be doing the job reliably, efficiently and routinely.

Matt Tudor: What apprenticeships do is create a more entrepreneurial and innovative way to learn. That probably some of the people that weren’t as successful at school do well. Skills and capabilities are when you’ve got your hands on something and you’re taking an engine apart and putting it back together, to me, that’s clever!

Andy Smyth: We have got to put the right people in the right places, put the right processes in place and leave it up to them. We must allow them to show us what they can do and I think that’s one of the challenges.

Going back to school leavers with limited literacy and numeracy skills, that shouldn’t be the responsibility of employers.

Ben Hansford: No and it’s difficult, I understand that teaching maths and English is not core business for anyone, you know, you might be able to do certain elements for an apprenticeship programme, but when you come down to the maths and English, private businesses aren’t likely to. So the support is out there and the frameworks are there to make it as contextualised as possible.

Sue Flavin: At Skanska we have circa 450, out of a 5,000 workforce in the UK who are in some form of formalised training. If I described the training for each of these people, the content of their studies would match an apprenticeship model. They study for a qualification (degree, national/higher national certificate on a part-time basis) or we sponsor them on a full-time course, to gain a recognised qualification. We provide summer placements, industrial year outs. Some of the routes provide individuals with the opportunity to earn a wage, whilst they learn. If this group has any influence on the Government, can we stop changing apprenticeships and use them as a framework for a variety of ‘approved’ training routes which suit all abilities. One of the challenges will be gaining the support of young people. I recently interviewed apprentices in Kent for an Apprentice of the Year Award and all of them told me they were the only person in their year group who had considered an apprenticeship when they left school. We need to change these perceptions in order to attract individuals into apprenticeships.

Ross Cowie: OFSTED has identified areas to improve numeracy and literacy teaching, especially how maths lessons were being taught to children, such as investigative maths. There isn’t necessarily one right or wrong answer, and the children have to work through the problems which could have a number of solutions. It is more about the process followed rather than whether the actual outcome was correct.

What employers want is a good framework and simple legislation, is that likely?

Ben Hansford: The SASE came into effect from April 1st and there’s going to be more monitoring. This Government is committed to radical simplification of the whole apprenticeship agenda and the SASE, as I said earlier, is the regulatory requirements of an apprenticeship framework and it’s flexible enough. The fact that there’s 200 of them, from nine months to four years in length, is evidence. In terms of simplification, we are reducing as much as we can, there are quite significant plans in place to really quite radically change the system for employers, so in terms of the interventions that are coming, they will become less and less, so that’s quite valid.

Matt Tudor: What businesses need and want is new people at an entry level to a business, to go on to develop into managers and leaders of the future. Put the bureaucracy to one side, apprenticeships create capability, innovation, competence, confidence and independent thinking. It has all the components, it’s how you sell this into your business in order to get success from it.

What needs to be done to promote apprenticeships and their relevance, do we need a re-brand?

Antony Bacon: I really don’t think that re-branding is the way to go. I think we’ve already got some strong recognition in apprenticeships and probably everybody around this table has done a great deal of work for that, either within their own business or in industry communities. I think it’s more about raising awareness of what apprenticeships mean, dispelling some misconceptions of who would go for an apprenticeship and opening that discussion with people. The biggest allies and potentially biggest enemies of careers advisers, to young people, are parents. It would help if parents understood what apprenticeships can offer to them as a family, and to their children’s careers, and get those discussions going.

Paula Leach: One of the things that we in business can do, particularly those of us who hav established programmes, is look at role models within the organisations and we’ve worked wit our sector skills council to try and put some of our role models out into careers events. I think there is a wider opportunity to think about the marketing of this and clearly companies need support wit these types of people, but I would really welcome some sort of coordinator of resources.

Barry Brooks: The apprenticeship is not a national qualification, it’s a qualification framework. Yo want to have ownership for the employee, so that the qualification is valuable, but you also want to have ownership from the employer, and that’s why I think, as a former regulator, the framework was a nightmare to deal with, but now, there’s the opportunity to build something which works for you today.

Andy Smyth: The biggest influences on a new entrant to our programme were their friends, their teachers and their parents. They all got to them before we did, and actually the hardest to reach group, to be positive, unfortunately was teachers. We could get the message through to the individual and their parents, because they searched together in many instances. We had a challenge with teachers as they struggled in terms of keeping current with what the value of an apprenticeship is, many of them really didn’t recognise the vocational route as a strong positive option, in many cases it seemed to be “well you’ve failed everything else, you’d best go and do something vocational”, which actually is a message that’s been sent out for many years. One of the things I think we need is for Government to reach out and say “where are all of you ex apprentices”?

And the experience that mentors can bring is an important element.

Antony Bacon: I’ll share a quote with you from one of our Engineers who had been training one of our apprentices: “That has been the most fulfilling experience I’ve had as an engineer in over 20 years”! As Paula said we all have colleagues who will stay in a role and become masters of their trade. It’s those people that we depend on to train our apprentices, and they become vital to the process. Being able to share and impart all those skills, and having somebody eager to learn them, confirmed to me that everyone can add value to the apprenticeship process, and they can really just raise moral within a team.

Matt Tudor: And that raises a structural issue with apprenticeships, the further you go up the apprenticeship ladder, the more you get into line management and those sorts of skills, and actually there should be more depth in technical skills as another route.

Ben Hansford: We are looking at developing technician status, to identify those technical roles, and we’re also exploring ideas for alumni networks and an apprenticeship role of honour. Also, in terms of getting in contact with employers that are already engaged with apprenticeships, you can, of course, speak to the National Apprenticeship Service. There’s also a very well established national network of employers called the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network. I just wanted to point ou that some of the long standing exemplar apprenticeship programmes have one thing in common, they do an awful lot of work in schools, sending out apprentices to schools, sending out their staff to schools. People like British Gas, BAE Systems, their programmes, they spend a lot of time engaging schools, almost taking the milk round back to school.

Is there a case for, dare I say, making apprenticeships more sexy? Apprenticeships create capability, innovation, competence, confidence and Independent thinking. It has all the components, it’s how you sell this into your business in order to get success from it

Jeff Uden: We’ve absolutely got to make the apprenticeship more sexy, so that they realise the opportunities that are on offer, which was the principle reason why people go to university. What the business community and Government needs to provide is good, strong promotional work and clear steps to engagement, for both academic students and less ably academic people.

Andy Smyth: The apprenticeship route is really rather compelling. At 16 years old the academic will do A levels, and we’re saying “come and do a level 2 apprenticeship. Seventeen years old, you’re still on your A levels, with us you’re doing your level 3 advanced apprenticeship, and 19 years old, you’re just going to university, well actually you could start a foundation degree in an organisation at age 18. Taking the apprentice route, by 21 you will be probably an operational manager with five years operational performance behind you.

Jane Daly: I actually think branding is critical and it’s not so much the name, I think it’s absolutely fine to call it apprenticeships, but I have a 17 year old son and coming here today I thought well, I will ask him and his friends who are usually camped out at my house, and they had absolutely no idea what any of this is about. So for me, I think there’s some amazing stories, but apprenticeships have never been mentioned to him at school so this is a missed opportunity.

Barry Brooks: Apprenticeships is considered a flagship of Government’s initiatives, but many local authorities have already pulled the career advice connection service because they fear they are going to lose their grant, so there is a real disconnect in danger of happening, at a time of great opportunity. As employers it’s your opportunity, and to your benefit, to talent spot, attract and nurture.

So once again, it is employers that will have the responsibility for communication.

Ross Cowie: When you put the case across so factually about, between the age of 16 and 21, where will you be at the end of it. If you’re earning and learning you will have money in your pocket and a career on the go, whereas if you’re at university you will graduate with large amounts of debt and no guarantee of employment. Using that comparison it seems obvious which route would be more appealing.

What is needed is a qualification structure that is understandable and respected.

Richard O’Flynn: If businesses put the effort and resource into going into schools, doing workshops, using role-model apprentices, the message will get through.

Jane Daly: Apprenticeships do need a brand profile, they have to appeal to the target audience and have the look and feel of a quality brand. We need clear principles and guidelines from somebody central, to ensure we drive those vital messages consistently. As soon as teenagers are engaged the first thing they do is start to search on the web so it is critical that a robust social media platform is also in place.

Should work experience at school be more structured?

Antony Bacon: Yes, work experience is spending a couple of weeks somewhere to tick a box, but whether any true and valuable experience is achieved is arguable. We need to have a meaningful dialogue with the school and the candidate to discuss what they are going to get out of the work experience. This would result in objectives, for me as an employer, and for the work experience candidate, to give them some genuine insight.

It seems work experience has to be more relevant to be really useful.

Kirsty Huntington: It’s important to make sure that you have set objectives for each individual that’s coming through the door to gain that work experience, so that they can make that informed decision at the end of it, as to whether that’s the right career for them. Individuals should be making an informed decision about where they want to complete their work experience, something that’s relevant to their chosen career path and we would have a set structure and training programme for each of those individuals that come in for two or three weeks, or however long it is to complete that work experience. So that, at the end of it, they can come out feeling that they’ve learned some skills but they’ve also been able to come away more informed about the world of work and what opportunities are available to then carry on with their studies and hopefully come back whenever they’re ready to.

Nick McGlashan: I think it is really important for schools and colleges to highlight the benefits of apprenticeships across all sectors of business, as quite often, school leavers do not know of the opportunities that are available to them. With the current emphasis on this area we need to ensure that the supply and demand are matched up.

Paula Leach: We’re a very well-known brand, we’ve got a very high quality programme and we don’t take that many on each year so recruiting is not a problem for us. One area we are looking at is diversity, attracting more girls into engineering apprenticeships and, as employers, I see no reason why we shouldn’t support promotion of apprenticeships.

Is there an overarching body representing apprenticeships?

Ben Hansford: The National Apprenticeship has end-to-end responsibility for apprenticeships, and we are one of the only areas of Government that has a marketing exemption so we ran quite a significant campaign earlier this year. We also ran apprenticeship week earlier this year, and aligned to that the number of apprenticeships is growing quite significantly which is probably why it’s more in the public eye. It’s had the previous Government’s support, it absolutely has this Government’s support. Apprenticeships are growing, and we’ve concentrated our efforts on working with employers, and we will be working with the new careers advice service when it is up and running, and we will be putting our efforts into making sure the messages are getting into schools.

Chris McCormack: In my previous role with BT I was involved in a very successful apprenticeship scheme with 10,000 apprentices in one year. Many businesses are working in more than one country, and for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, right now there are different rules in every single country.

Margaret Wood: Yes and there are different frameworks as well in the different countries and in addition to that there’s also different levels of funding. In Scotland for instance the funding is regionally based across Scotland, so the complexities as a national employer of trying to manage and understand the differences are very challenging.

We’re getting down to the nittygritties of bureaucracy.

Andy Smyth: The conversations about devolved administration has been going on for years and I would guess that we are no further forward today than we were five years ago. The issue we have, and I think it is probably the case in most of the organisations here, is we are national, we are also international. Within the brand, we must have commonality, let’s just try and agree the core requirements, because most of us actually do want a standard operating model.

Ross Cowie: In my experience, the process for employers to apply for a contract with the Skills Funding Agency is rather protracted and contains much duplication of information. There are opportunities to simplify and streamline this process without risking the quality of the programme which will be delivered. This would encourage more employers to engage with apprenticeships.

Ben Hansford: There was an announcement last week around pilot activity, around data collection, around bureaucracy, around audit, and effectively removing as much of that as possible for those employers that contract directly, and moving towards outcome-based payments, when the employer will just invoice us for what they’ve done, which is actually quite exciting. The finite detail of the pilot is going to be worked out. We want employers onboard with apprenticeships because you’re the ones that can offer the jobs.

Ross Cowie: As employers, we do have responsibility to try and influence a system that works for us, to make it more efficient and effective, in order to encourage more employers to engage, rather than to derail it because it is just too complicated.

It’s important for employers to be vocal about what is required to achieve success.

Barry Brooks: Today we have discussed, does the framework work for you as a qualification, does the brand work for you as a status or a recruiter, also does the training programme and the people you bring in work for you as a business? Because if it doesn’t work on your bottom line, then you won’t do it.

What is the one ingredient that is essential to the apprenticeship renaissance being a success?

Paula Leach: Getting people who would not ordinarily apply for an apprenticeship, to consider apprenticeships, that would probably be the key thing.

Andy Smyth: Promoting a universal brand, that has a simple mechanism for employers to engage with, and simplicity is key.

Ben Hansford: You need to ask the UK Commission to address the four nations issue.

Sue Flavin: It’s about trying to work out how we would market the proposition to parents as well as the youngsters. Parents will influence their children’s decisions. We have to define what the apprenticeship brand is and market it accordingly.

Chris McCormack: For me it’s a combination of those things, it’s simplification, getting the branding right and connecting emotionally with parents, teachers, and businesses together. It’s a big ask but I think it can be done, and I think there’s a systematic way of doing it.

Jeff Uden: For me, it’s branding at the four levels, it’s the individuals, the school teachers, the parents and the employers.

Richard O’Flynn: Branding, the second one is saying to employers, that we’ve an opportunity here that is like buying a house off plan. You know the frameworks are there, but there’s an opportunity for you to knock a wall down here and move wall here to make it fit your vision and needs, and that’s been the biggest learning for me today.

Jane Daly: For me it’s branding as well, it’s about creating a crystal clear DNA and a trusted reputation that allows people to consider their options. It is also about having a consistent platform, with clear principles for employers to engage, recruit and develop from. Things like the management & administration challenges need to be significantly upgraded, as all of this also affects the brand.

Ross Cowie: A combination of everything – it really is getting it the message right for the influencers which is the parents and teachers. Also, it’s simplifying the bureaucracy in order to engage more employers.

Sharon Williams: Consistency across international boundaries and getting it right from school.

Antony Bacon: PR on all levels and perhaps getting all those industrial groups and business sectors together.

Margaret Wood: Simplification and consistency particularly across the UK and decreasing some of the levels of bureaucracy and also the branding.

Kirsty Huntington: Again, branding and the importance of raising the awareness of apprenticeships at school level.

Donna Hamilton: I agree we need to focus on brand but it’s not about a superficial title or name, it’s about developing apprenticeships as a credible alternative to University, not a second choice. Employers need to be clear about what apprenticeships are, consistently deliver quality programmes and support and promote the attainment of apprentices in the same way that we promote our graduate programme alumni.

Nick McGlashan: For me the main issue is how to move to single funding and qualification for all the UK.

To read more Roundtable Report please click HERE

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