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Posted By Mercuri International (UK) Ltd on 24/09/2018

Upskilling for our future - The Apprenticeship Levy

Upskilling for our future - The Apprenticeship Levy

What is the biggest lie in life? How about – ‘People like change!’. It’s a cliché popular with management particularly when a workforce is required to do something it’s not happy about. Why are people resistant to change?

Change requires thought. It draws more energy than normal. It creates disturbance and can make some feel inadequate. Change nurtures vulnerability, uncertainty and fear. Resistance is magnified by lack of understanding.

On the flip side, change frequently provides opportunity, signifies progress, encourages development and improves output. People are often happier after change has occurred.

Mainstream media comment generally majors on negativity and confusion around the initiative. Those in the know, the old hands, lob imponderables from the side lines irritating government mandarins whilst at once appearing perspicacious – Win squared.

As our national capacity to invent, make and own things seems to daily diminish, there is a real possibility that longer term, the UK will become no more than a low skill, service delivery mega- centre off the north west coast of Europe. How many have grasped the potential magnitude of the opportunity for UK PLC’s presented by the Levy?

Before summarizing the opportunity, let’s consider the counter argumentation, much of which is built not on ideological objection, but on simple lack of understanding.

Why use the levy?

The opportunity to acquireaccreditation in roles previously deemed too intangible to quantify is acompelling case for commitment. As an example; Sales is largely ignored bycareer advisors and academia mainly because the profession is poorly understoodby both. Young adults reliably informed of employment pathways to financialsecurity, career progression and entrepreneurial opportunity will be veryinterested. Building a qualification around core business and life skills whichhave already created companies, jobs and wealth is vital to national economichealth. Investment in human capital ticks a very important box for Millennials whosevalue set differs markedly from that of their parents.

It’s too bureaucratic and inflexible

For whom? Process is necessary because a qualification is the end-point. To generate commitment rigour must be applied. The use of public money necessitates the elimination of any possibility of misappropriation. Quality must be assured and this demands attentiveness. Regarding flexibility; process need not equate to rigidity. The content of a Level 4 Sales Apprenticeship can be tailored to specific industries if the learning cohort is large enough. The cry of ‘our company is unique’ is heard in chorus every day. If we are all unique, surely we are all the same? Most core competencies in Sales are common across role and industry sector. Anyone arguing otherwise does not really understand sales. The nuance which undoubtedly exists is a factor but by no means the predominant one. Ways to manage the process are being refined.

The opportunity cost

Businesses are often prone to short-termism and evidence of that is easy to find. It is reminiscent of the old cartoon showing a machine gun salesman turning up at the king’s battlefield headquarters sited above an ongoing scene of medieval carnage. The salesman is dismissed by a royal flunky with ‘His Majesty is too busy to see you’. Many companies worry about lost productivity costs and in particular - lost sales. It seems few are considering the multiplicative power of a more able and stable sales team which can improve conversion rates, lower the cost of sale, increase turnover and grow the customer base. A short, unconnected training programme has the same impact as an adrenalin shot. Equipping the next generation of sales professionals requires investment from individual and employer alike, otherwise the old cycle in which only the strongest survive is perpetuated.

Mature Apprenticeships

Young people are missing out.   The levy should not impact on recruitment of young people. So why is there a growing and valid concern that the apprenticeship reform has reduced the number of apprenticeships available to school leavers in favour of apprenticeships for people who have already been employed for some time? It does however offer a qualification to those who may never have had the opportunity to gain professional recognition in a role before. Prerequisites for inclusion in any qualification do not prevent younger people participation in favour of others.

Too slow to launch qualifications
Creating meaningful content and engaging with industry thought leaders takes time and effort. To produce a widely accepted curriculum and valued qualification required the assent of many stakeholder groups. The need for qualifications is ongoing therefore, this particular objection is out of date as most apprenticeship qualifications are already launched.

No defined training path for the professional salesperson
Qualifications now exist to map the pathway of a salesperson from entry into the profession through to a sales leadership role.  In times past, this journey was undertaken unofficially with each success or promotion seen as a hard-won badge of honour. Now, the knowledge, skills and attitudinal requirements can be measured alongside the actual sales results to validate and recognize the capability and achievement level of the individual salesperson.

There is a lack of quality provision
The market has changed. New entrants have reinvigorated the training space and brought fresh ideas and perspectives. Companies previously well established in the business to business commercial sector have equipped themselves to provide learning support, methodologies, tools and delivery mechanisms which are at the forefront of learning practice. The game has changed.

What does the post Brexit future hold?
As a challenge which preoccupies HM Government and the EU on a continuous basis, any prediction on the shape of the UK economy after 2019 is well beyond the scope of this paper. One thing is certain. Regardless of the UK position post-Brexit, the country will need a highly skilled, motivated and energetic workforce which is up to building and maintaining strong economic capability. The country must protect its long-term position in an increasingly competitive world.

Where now?
Change is inevitable. Thelearning marketplace in the UK has undergone a significant alteration. Budgetholders across the country are considering whether training provisioned throughhard-fought internal negotiation can now be funded through the Levy. This meanseither; more human capital development can be accessed or, the money can bediverted elsewhere in the business.

Providers with specialist expertize are enabling themselves to be the partner of choice in a market segment previously roped off and inaccessible. Employers frustrated by the low-quality people development delivered by some providers in the past now have exciting alternative choices.
Hard working people denied access to qualifications which recognize their undoubted skills and achievement now have an opportunity to receive accredited recognition. Finally, a validation of their worth and employability is a reality.
The UK has a real chance to catch up and even overtake some of our fiercest economic competitors by investing in a skills-focused future beyond the EU. Collectively, we need to grasp the opportunity with both hands. In times of change, the adaptable prevail.

Barry Hilton, Managing Director, Mercuri International (UK) Ltd.

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