The Apprenticeship Levy is an invaluable tool for UK organisations yet myths and concerns around its use persist, especially for small or medium-sized businesses without the luxury of huge L&D teams. Recent research from Grant Thornton showed that 27% of mid-market businesses are unclear about the benefits apprentices would bring to their business and 19% believe it’s too costly.
What is often missed is that the Levy covers apprenticeships at all levels and, more importantly, that it can help businesses engage with three of the biggest issues faced, skills development, diversity and inclusion and top talent retention.
We know that many businesses will need skills that don’t currently exist in their workforce in the next five years. And according to our recent research, 56% of mid-market organisations have begun to use the Levy to fill these skills gaps by investing in their existing workforce.
Luton Borough Council is one of these organisations that is equipping its workforce with key leadership skills. Abid Quershi loves working for the Council, but recently realised he wouldn’t progress through the organisation without extra qualifications. Using the Levy, the Council enrolled Abid onto an Executive MBA apprenticeship programme in partnership with Cranfield School of Management. Abid graduates next year but is very optimistic to secure a promotion he says he wouldn’t have even been able to apply for without the EMBA.
Apprentices are a great way to up- or re-skill your workforce as long as apprentices are given the time and support needed to succeed.
Abid said, “Time was one of the biggest concerns for me. Apprenticeships are a commitment and need a lot of time management between work, university and family.” Crucially, apprentices also need the support of their line managers, Abid describes his line manager as simply “vital” to his success.
Diversity and Inclusion
More and more companies understand the commercial imperative for improving diversity and inclusion and how it can support the growth of their business. What might be less clear is how the Apprenticeship Levy can help – but this is one of the benefits of the Levy that we have taken advantage of as business.
CJ Bedford, an Associate Director in Grant Thornton’s people advisory team, explains, “Since the Levy was introduced, we have focussed on broadening our talent pool, so we have greater diversity of thought and are better able to serve our clients’ needs. University is amazing, but it’s extremely expensive, meaning many people just can’t afford it. Apprenticeships allow people, no matter their background, to earn and learn at the same time, gaining qualifications without the costs.”
Part of our strategy has been to use the Levy to embed social mobility and diversity into everything we do, with a particular focus on school leaver and graduate intakes. Before the Levy was introduced, we had removed academic entry requirements for our trainee programmes. We now actively target areas where further education may seem out of reach and provide coaching for all candidates in advance of their interviews to create a level playing field.
The flexibility of the Levy means that like us, businesses can use it strategically to enable diversity and inclusion objectives at all levels.
Senior development and talent retention
Apprentices are often associated with younger people in fact, 41% of mid-market businesses that we surveyed said they need employees with more experience. But apprentices are a brilliant tool for developing and retaining more senior talent.
ABM, which provides facility service solutions across the UK, has used the Levy at every level of the business. Kirsty Read, ABM’s Learning Development Co-ordinator, drew on her experience at a training provider to create a full apprenticeship catalogue of both full and part-time courses, ranging from technical skills to leadership and management. She presented a clear business case to the ABM board, demonstrating the commercial benefits of structured continued professional development and highlighting the ability to use our Apprenticeship Levy pot to fund it.
ABM has since enrolled 23 mid-senior managers on our leadership programmes offered in partnership with Activate Business School, with a further eight applications pending. Longer than the courses that were previously available and coupled with coaching support, Kirsty hopes the new programmes will build managers’ confidence, enabling them to lead more effectively.
The Apprenticeship Levy is a versatile tool, which, set alongside a clearly defined business need, can be used to deliver outstanding results on a wide range of issues. If you’re not currently using yours to help deliver strategy, you’re missing a trick.