Yes, I said shouldn’t. I don’t think that apprenticeships are failing, hindering social mobility or anything else that we read in the opinion pieces, and the last thing I want to do is dissuade you from exploring your levy potential, or to write off the apprenticeship levy as a tax (surely not?); I genuinely believe that apprenticeships, if used for the power of good, can change lives and transform businesses.
However I also believe that in order for us to succeed in taking apprenticeships to the next level where workforces are empowered; everyone who can influence the direction of English apprenticeships need to ensure that we are fostering a workplace culture that encourages learning, practice and achievement – and that means giving employees the headspace in which to do so, which leads me to my first point:
1) Don’t spend the levy on people who will never be given the time to develop
The ‘20 per cent off the job’ learning requirement has become somewhat of a grimace-inducing concept to some, especially when it hasn’t been explained in a way that gives stakeholders that ‘penny drop’ moment. The most successful apprenticeship programmes are where line managers have been active in understanding how developing their staff can benefit their teams in the long run, Those managers aren’t afraid of training up staff to leave – instead, they have the confidence that they’ll stay.
2) Don’t spend the levy on people who just want to gain lots of acronyms
Sure, it is a huge win for the workforce that professional qualifications are now fundable via the levy, but the difference between doing a professional stand-alone qualification, and an apprenticeship programme which encompasses a professional qualification are two very different things. A stand-alone programme such as CIPD or CMI can be done outside of work and the learner could be working, or not, in a relevant role, or not – but an apprenticeship requires the learner to be working in a relevant job role, putting into practice everything they are learning in their study breaks – sounds logical, but this could start to become more tricky where employees may be siloed into a particular discipline.
3) Don’t spend the levy on upskilling huge numbers of customer service agents or team leaders
Generally speaking, large teams that suffer from high attrition rates will not be helped by mass apprenticeship training unless the root cause is addressed. Again, see point 1 – and ask yourself if they will be given the time to develop, try new things, join new projects and eventually move into more senior roles. The most successful programmes I have seen are where employers introduce a competitive application process, allowing staff to take ownership of their own development and prove that they really want to progress. A high profile apprenticeship scheme with high drop out rates can do more long term damage for your apprenticeship scheme overall. 4) Apprentices are not cheap labour I wish wish wish that this wasn’t still an issue, but on a very rare occasion, I still hear employers say that they want cheap labour and that an apprenticeship will be the way to achieve this. Until I stop hearing this altogether, I will keep saying it. This is an awful viewpoint, and it is unfair, and I hope that no apprentice is unlucky enough to end up working for one of these companies. As a side note, an entry-level Data Analyst apprentice that Arch place can earn a starting salary of typically £25k in London, plus benefits.
5) Don’t spend your levy without a clear learning strategy
Wanting to spend your levy before the payments start to roll-off is completely understandable, but without a clear goal as to what your objectives are, how do you know what outstanding looks like? There are numerous reasons why your peers decided to create their schemes: to break the mould of the usual demographic of applicants, to increase women in tech, to grow a more diverse workforce, to fill skills gaps (the reason why Arch was conceived – to grow our own digital talent), to fill open vacancies, to replace grad schemes, to upskill those who have never been able to access training before, to increase retention, to reward newly promoted individuals – the list really goes on – but what is yours? Remember to keep this in mind with every single decision you make. And because I run the risk of sounding a bit negative, I thought I would throw in a ‘do’… DO celebrate your achievements!
Apprenticeships are an opportunity not just to develop our workforce but to break down barriers, silos, challenge perceptions and embrace new ideas. Tell everyone about your successes, share your learnings. Good luck for the future in continuing to embrace apprenticeships!