Caught in the aftermath of Brexit and the midst of a global pandemic, UK training and development budgets have been severely impacted. As a result of the unprecedented working landscape, investment in employees has fallen as many businesses focus on short term challenges and firefighting.

With many individuals furloughed or working from home, their development has undoubtedly slipped down the list of priorities – either postponed or at best becoming disrupted. While employees may be largely understanding in these exceptional circumstances, this will only last so long. We know that development opportunities are of extreme importance to employees – often featuring as a key factor for departure highlighted in exit interviews.

Before too long, this disruption to development or failure to invest will have serious implications. Employees, who have remained loyal and in many instances have repeatedly gone above and beyond, will inevitably disengage and ultimately leave, something that no business, especially those already reporting skills shortages, can afford.

In this period of economic pressure, apprenticeships could provide the perfect answer. A cost-effective way to attract and retain talent. In short, they make commercial sense.


The Value of Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship schemes were originally designed as a route into work, offering a combination of on the job training and learning to anyone aged 16 or over. Nowadays apprenticeships have evolved and are an effective training intervention which businesses can use to develop a wide range of skills across all levels within the company. There is no upper-age restriction, and apprenticeship opportunities exist for new hires or existing employees that that would benefit from further training.

They provide a fantastic way of doing this as a practical and real time method of upskilling teams and shaping the workforce you require, unlike some learning programmes grounded in theory. The time and investment a business makes by taking on an apprentice will be outweighed by the benefits – as you get a trained and work-ready employee, with specific expertise, that already knows how your business operates. It represents an investment into tomorrow’s employees and those that will carry the business forward.

They incorporate qualifications right from Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) through to Level 7 (Masters-degree equivalent). Vocations such as Business Administration, PR & Marketing, Childcare and Early Years, Dental Nurse, HR and so many more can now all now be accessed. They work for school leavers, those changing careers, people moving into a leadership or management roles and those who may have had a break from the workforce such as parents or carers.

This flexibility is what can benefit your business too – crafting a scheme that meets your needs.

And now is the time to act. Not least because the recent apprenticeship incentive has been extended until 31st March 2021, where employers can claim up to £2,000 to access funding for the apprentice’s training and assessment.[1]


Maximising the apprenticeship levy

January 2020 saw the Online Apprenticeship Service be opened up to employers who are not required to pay the Apprenticeship Levy (with the levy being applicable to employers who have a payroll in excess of £3 million per year). This system allows employers to organise and recruit online for their own apprenticeship, choose their apprenticeship provider and manage their funding allocation.[2]

With the economy under pressure, accessing the levy allows you to develop your workforce using a budget that is already ringfenced for your business. Many larger companies which qualify for the levy are yet to fully embrace apprenticeships – indeed tens of millions of pounds worth of levy funds have gone unspent in recent years – but we strongly urge them to reassess.

Qualifying organisations have no choice about whether or not to pay the levy but you do have a choice about how you use their levy funds. You can either maximise them, paying for approved apprenticeship training from a recognised training provider – or watch the available funds disappear when they expire in 24 months.


The benefits of apprenticeships

Here are just some of the reasons why now is the perfect time to consider apprenticeships:

Address the skills gap in your business – Knowing how to engage with your management team on skills gaps is critical. Then by identifying that deficiency, you can put concrete plans in place to address it. Apprenticeships are also an effective way to upskill your existing workforce. Enrolling your employees on to relevant courses and sector-specific apprenticeships will enable them to gain accredited qualifications and develop role-related skills and knowledge relevant to your organisation.

Diversify your workforce – It is often recognised that the only way to truly eliminate large-scale skills shortages is to open a broader pool of talent and this includes tapping into areas perhaps not traditionally considered in your sector – be they low-skilled, young, female, not from the industry or ex-offenders for example. Apprenticeships used to be thought of as only being for young talent. Yet large companies like Barclays, The Co-operative Group and Boots are all recruiting for mature employees and publicly pledging their commitment to a more diverse workforce. To keep on the cutting edge and fulfil the number of roles you need, you may need to do the same – while always ensuring having a structured learning and development programme to support this move.

Future proof your business – By setting out a long-term business plan and establishing KPIs which are aligned with your training and development plans you are able to future proof your workforce. Doing so will mean that skills gaps will become a thing of the past as your business will have processes in place to highlight, investigate and improve appropriate skills development. Apprenticeships help match available talent with these specific skills you need, growing your talent pipeline for the future.

Freshen your business thinking – Apprentices help your business to progress, develop and innovate. Fresh minds bring fresh ideas. They make a real difference to working environments too – infusing new energy into teams as they want to be part of your industry. They bring a new way of thinking and will address issues and reach resolutions that might have previously eluded your team. And with the ability to complete quite complex projects within months of starting, you start to see a rapid, tangible return on your investment.

Improved retention and productivity – Data shows that businesses with an apprenticeship programme benefit from higher staff retention rates and commitment levels. Surveys from the National Apprenticeship Service have shown that 80% of companies who invest in apprentices have reported a significant increase in employee retention. More than half (57%) of employers report a high proportion of their apprentices being promoted to management position. The same report suggests that than three-quarters (76%) of employers who employ apprentices agree they make their workplace more productive while research also shows a typical apprentice delivers productivity gains of over £10,000 annually.

Boost your reputation – A renowned apprenticeship scheme is also a great way to make your business stand out from others. In these unprecedented times, brand image is essential – both in attracting talent and customers. It can make the difference between a customer choosing your business or going to one of your competitors. From a reputational perspective, being seen to take on local talent and help boost youth employment in the area can help to raise the positive profile of your business. Happy and supported apprentices can also become brand ambassadors – boosting your appeal among their peers – potentially unlocking a talent pool that was previously inaccessible to you.


The best options for your business?

To establish if an apprenticeship scheme is right for your business, here are some key questions to consider:

  • What is the skills challenge you are trying to address, and what adaptations might you need to make with your existing workforce?
  • What courses and content are available to match that skill? Can this be tailored to meet your exact business needs?
  • Is the someone on your workforce that has the experience to deliver an apprenticeship successfully? Does someone show the appropriate aptitude and enthusiasm to step up? Or do you need to seek external support?
  • What is your budget or what would be the total cost for an apprenticeship? What is the projected ROI. Many businesses will invest a large amount into training and development for their employees, but could this budget be better spent with a programme that is inextricably embedded in your business?


Dispelling the myths and maximising the opportunity

Apprenticeships are no longer solely for school leavers nor are they restricted to manual roles in industrial sectors as is often perceived.

Due to these misconceptions combined with misplaced fears around the complexity of the process, many companies are not making the most of their apprenticeship levy funds. Whether they are confused about the new rules, unsure about the limit on funding availability, concerned about setting up a DAS account or view the levy as an additional business tax – the process is actually simple. And Gi Group can assist with all aspects of apprenticeships from simply understanding the levy through to planning, implementing, managing and embedding extensive programmes within your business.

With the right plan in place, you can invest in your employees, embed loyalty in your business and shape a tailor-made workforce which aligns with your future objectives. Apprenticeships can be the passport to developing the skills your business needs down the line, engaging and retaining your employees and in ultimately helping your business to thrive.