Don’t mention the ‘a-word’

2nd February 2021

When you hear the word “apprenticeship” what does that mean to you?  Many people associate this with young people in entry level job roles, manual trade positions and non-academic study.  Whilst there is nothing wrong with any of these, an apprenticeship can be used to access funding to train and qualify by anybody of any age in programmes equivalent to up to degree level, at any point in their career, providing no prior learning of the same type/level has been previously completed.  It is now perfectly possible to become a fully qualified solicitor without ever going to university.

Yet still some stigma to apprenticeships can prevail with graduates, middle and senior managers – which is a real pity and something for us all to tackle and change in order to make the funding truly work for organisations and individual careers alike.

The apprenticeship Levy fund introduced in 2017 has created a pot of money for every organisation (not just those with a pay bill over £3m that pay into it) to use for up-skilling and qualifying employees.  Most organisations struggle to spend their Levy pot in its entirety, due to a combination of factors including how colleagues feel about being on an ‘apprenticeship’ at certain ages or stages of their career.  Larger employers can pledge up to 25% of their unspent levy funds to other organisations, and increasing efforts are emerging to support this from both training providers and through campaigns such as ‘Reskilling the Recovery’.

Employers often request assistance from us as the training provider to help raise the visibility and positivity towards what is effectively a free route to training and qualifications for their people; and to be better able to explain logic and reduce the stigma sometimes associated amongst professionals with the ‘a-word’.

We offer 22 apprenticeship programmes to clients and colleagues across the group, using Levy funds for those living and working in England.  These focus largely on insurance qualifications but also financial planning, leadership and management, sales, customer service and others.

Of course, there is the option to pay for training and qualifications directly with awarding bodies.  This is a much more “swot and pass” approach and whilst can be quicker, requires operational budgets for financial investment as opposed to using the Levy fund.  The difference with studying via an apprenticeship route is that the programme is much more modular and supported.  A key difference is the relationship with an expert, one-to-one coach, plus the portfolio work; which requires evidence of knowledge, skills and behaviour applicable to the study. This process creates more transferability of learning to the role by generating greater reflection and evidence of capability and competence.

Both employers and apprentices report higher levels of confidence, credibility and performance and first time pass rates with apprenticeships are often as much as 20% higher than when studying directly for exams with professional bodies.

Our first time pass rate for apprenticeships is an average of 94%, with 60% achieving Distinctions.  We know this is due to the detailed suitability checks that we complete with every apprentice before they begin study, and to the ongoing support and one-to-one coaching that they receive regularly throughout their programme both from our own coaches and their supportive line managers at work.

So with all this in mind, it can be confusing when individuals feel ‘insulted’ at being offered the opportunity of an apprenticeship.  The associated stigma felt, albeit incorrectly, can be quite profound and something employers and training providers need to work together to change. This can be approached in a number of ways to communicate the benefits of apprenticeships and change any negative opinions and prejudices about them.

Communication methods can include sharing success stories of previous apprentices, particularly those who have achieved qualifications and promotions.  We often interview apprentices and publish their success stories on our learning solutions LinkedIn page and website to inspire others. We also celebrate with award nominations and highlights during National Apprenticeship Week.

Employers who build apprenticeships into career progression journeys, graduate schemes and/or align them with internal mentoring schemes are successfully making their apprenticeships more appealing. Some employers also hold assessment and selection centres to determine which colleagues will receive a place on an apprenticeship programme; thereby applying the scarcity influence principle and increasing competitiveness, desirability and prestige of gaining a place.

Apprenticeships are becoming scarcer.  In lockdown across all industries there have been 58,160 apprenticeship starts reported between 23 March and 31 July 2020, fewer than the 107,750 reported for this period at this point last year, a decrease of 46%.

What is the impact upon skills and employability of such a decrease in training and qualifications?  Coupled with restrictions on university education during the pandemic and concerns about funding and debt, it is important that we consider apprenticeships as a wholly viable alternative route to higher education without prejudice.

Three questions that can assist your organisation to review its use of apprenticeship levy funding in 2021 are:

  1. How do we currently use the levy fund (in whole, part or not at all) and how can we increase its usage?
  2. How does using apprenticeships add value to our organisation? (capability, employee attraction/retention, sales, client benefits)
  3. How do we show and communicate it is successful?

By integrating the apprenticeship levy into your people and talent strategy for 2021, there is a unique opportunity to continue to progress skills and development even when budgets are tight.

Less than 3% of our apprentices have opted to take a ‘break in learning’ due to Covid-19, although the sector average is closer to 19%.  By offering virtual classroom delivery and video coaching, our learning programmes are now delivered entirely remotely, providing a totally safe environment in which to continue learning.

With unemployment increasing to almost 5% and expected to reach near to 10% in 2021, skills and career support is of critical importance to our economic recovery from the global pandemic.  The future prosperity of the country depends not only on the number of people in work but how productive and effective they are at work.

Therefore isn’t it about time that we mentioned the ‘a-word’ more?

For more support and information on anything to do with apprenticeships, please contact Carolyn Blunt FCIPD, Business Development Director: Carolyn.Blunt@davies-group.com

 

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