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Posted By Apprenticeships Directory on 16/01/2018 in Apprenticeship Sector News Stories

We must not give up on apprenticeships

We must not give up on apprenticeships


What has gone wrong and why has the take-up been so slow? Crissi Williams spoke to HR Director Magazine about why we shouldn't give up

This is despite the government’s initiative to introduce three million apprenticeships by 2020, and over 3,000 pledges from businesses to create such roles within twelve months during National Apprenticeship Week 2016. So, what has gone wrong? Have we fallen out of love with apprenticeships? In our sector, telecoms, we have also seen a slow take up of the levy from both the larger providers required to pay it, and those smaller businesses who could benefit.

Certainly, among the businesses we work with, there has been some confusion – with the general feeling that too many initiatives were introduced at once. The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, along with new standards, a change in process and the launch of a new digital payment system have all added to the complexities of launching and running a scheme.

This is not forgetting the introduction of the register of apprentice training providers, which all providers needed to become part of. From their perspective, it took a long time to complete the necessary RoATP and there were a few failures when applications were submitted. Once accepted, providers then to had to complete an invitation to tender to be able to deliver the training to SMEs – however, the government then withdrew this application as it wasn’t working for them.  Is it therefore any wonder that businesses have been slow to jump in feet first and boost the numbers as possibly was expected?

Responding to the stats announcement, a DfE spokesperson said: “Our apprenticeship reforms have put control back into the hands of employers, so they will gain the skilled workforce they need to compete globally.” But is this just the problem? With apprenticeships back in their hands, are employers waiting for the dust to settle before they feel confident in launching a scheme?

Plugging the skills gap
All of this would lead many to believe that apprenticeships are simply just not worth the time and effort required to start and run. However, in the telecoms industry we are facing a digital skills crisis; and apprenticeships are becoming key to filling the ICT skills gap. They are also proving to be a great way of encouraging more women into STEM (science, technology, maths & engineering) roles. Many of the first apprentices we signed up back in 2013 are female, and now in senior roles thanks to their apprenticeship beginnings and a foot in the door of what used to be a predominantly male-dominated industry.

BT Business and Public Sector, Customer Engineer, Jessica Ashton, was the first female apprentice in her team.  In just over two years at BT she became a mentor, STEMNET Ambassador and the only trained Barefoot representative in her region.  She explains “I would highly recommend apprenticeships to everyone, they are the way forward! It is a much better way to learn, you can achieve qualifications in your profession as well as gaining real work experience. At university, you may get the qualification, but companies say you haven’t got enough experience to get the job which leaves you in a catch 22 situation.”

Opportunities ahead
Running an apprenticeship scheme brings with it unlimited business benefits. Many of the smaller companies we work with tell us that they receive reverse mentoring; with senior professionals benefiting from the knowledge, learning and expertise of their apprentices who are at the cutting edge of new technologies.

For larger businesses paying the levy, it is essential to make use of the scheme and at the same time, smaller companies can benefit from the funding.  Apprenticeships have come a long way thanks to the backing of national campaigns like Get in Go Far and high-profile schemes run by the likes of BT and Virgin Media.

Research from the National Apprenticeship Service shows that 90 percent of employers feel that apprenticeships are a great way to ensure a constant flow of suitably trained staff. There is also an overwhelming case which demonstrates that companies employing apprentices have a lower staff turnover, fewer skills-related vacancies and reduced recruitment costs. 83 percent of employers who hire apprentices rely on their apprenticeship programme to provide the skilled workers that they need for the future.  What’s more, the same survey revealed that 90 percent of employers see apprenticeships as their way of ‘giving something back’ – addressing CSR targets.

Steve Hayden, Managing Director of Green Telecom, has been employing apprentices for the past four years and has called for apprenticeships to be compulsory – with one apprentice for every ten employees. Starting out as an apprentice himself, he explains “Apprenticeships are a great opportunity to build a workforce from the ground up; taking someone into your business and training them in your systems and culture. Since launching our scheme, we’ve experienced lower staff turnover, a significant impact on our bottom line, and most importantly we have a skilled workforce now fully qualified in the areas that we may have been lacking.”

At a glance
There are currently apprenticeships available in 1,500 occupations across 170 industries in the UK. Apprenticeships can last between 12 months and 4 years.

The Apprenticeship Levy requires all employers with a wage bill of over £3m per annum to pay 0.5 percent of the annual bill. The funding can be used for all staff training, and not just apprentices. The Digital Apprenticeship Service portal is where you can now access funding, research programmes available, find a training provider and recruit.

Getting started
If you haven’t hired apprentices before, there are three things you will need to get started: A genuine role (for at least 30 hours per week) which will make a real contribution to your business – along with a detailed job description.

A line manager or mentor who will be able to provide the additional support needed for an employee starting their very first role.

A training provider you are happy to work with. In theory, all providers are quality assured because they are Ofsted inspected and audited by the government. However, it is worth getting a recommendation or vetting a few before signing up.

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