Apprenticeships: Opportunity & Responsibility

August 8 2016  —  by Andy Smyth, Development Manager Vocational Learning, HR, TUI Group

As a trustee of the City & Guilds Group, Chair of the Industry Skills Board and the lead for TUI Group on vocational learning, I spend a lot of my time advising businesses and Government on how to get the most out of apprenticeships. One of the key things I’ve stressed throughout this work is how vital it is for the new levy to meet the needs of both businesses and young people. Qualifications, such as apprenticeships, don’t just offer young people a pass or a fail; they offer an opportunity, a first step in a career where they will continue to develop, up skill and train in the future. For businesses, apprenticeships provide the skilled workforce they need to be productive. But apprenticeships aren’t just an opportunity for business. They’re a responsibility.

Here are the key steps your business needs to take if you want to create a responsible, high-quality apprenticeship programme:

1. Calculate the financial impact & secure a decision from your board about the way forward: This is key, as you need to know how much the levy will cost your company. The cost of the levy is 0.5% of your total wage bill (if over £3m a year) and is worked out through HMRC’s payroll systems. Your business can either treat the levy as a tax, a cost or an opportunity. It’s up to you but you need to go to your board with the right information so they can decide a way forward. This is a strategic decision which is likely to have an impact on the future of the business. You need to ensure that the board is fully engaged in the decision making process.

2. Make sure your apprenticeships are open to the talent your business needs: Consider the type of person that you want to bring into your organisation, and make sure you don’t put obstacles in the way that could deter them from applying. What levels should you be recruiting for? What opportunities do you want to offer? If you want to hire a school leaver, do you need to ask about previous experience in the recruitment? Is behaviour-based recruitment a better indicator of future potential than past academic qualifications? If you want to hire a young person who will grow and develop in your business, your recruitment needs to reflect this. Apprenticeships are more than just a way to claw back the levy, they are about opening up opportunities for young people, enabling new routes into a business.

3. Embed the programme: Again, it’s important to think strategically about the levy. You need to review your business plan and use this to define your workforce plan, thinking about the levy in the context of succession, attrition, skills gaps, growth etc. It is not just about your entry level roles, it is also about future opportunities for progression and promotion. If you are taking on an apprentice it needs to be because there is a vacancy. You should not create apprenticeships for the sake of it. You need to think about the whole journey, and how each apprentice could progress in your business. Map out their future pathways through the business.

4. Capacity, capacity, capacity: You need to look at whether you have the wider management infrastructure to support an apprentice in your business. Who will line manage the apprentice? Will this mean promotion and training for your existing workforce? Do you have the capability to deliver this or will you need additional help? It is vital to make sure you have manager level support for your apprenticeship scheme as well as approval at board level. These are the people who will be training, managing and fostering your future talent, so their support matters.

5. The later you leave it the harder it will be to get your approach right: It’s hard to plan in these uncertain times, especially as further information about the Levy has been delayed due to the Brexit vote. But as it stands, the levy is happening. It’s clear, despite frequent changes in ministers that the policy picture is forming. Your business needs to be ready.

Andy Smyth

Andy Smyth, City & Guilds Trustee and chair of the Industry Skills Board, and Development Manager Vocational Learning, HR at TUI Group, leads the development and management of accredited programs for TUI in line with business needs and government policy. This includes the company’s apprenticeship programmes which were awarded OFSTED Grade 2 in 2011 and in 2016. Andy has led the work of modernising the delivery of qualifications to match business processes; enabling apprenticeships and vocational programmes to extend in to new business functions. He is a regular contributor to government policy boards on learning & skills and how they contribute to growth. Most prominently, Andy was the joint employer lead on the BIS Employer Reference Group set up to improve the skills system and reduce bureaucracy. The group’s discussions led to the publication of the LSIS report ‘Simplifying end-to-end apprenticeship processes for employers’. He is a trustee of the City & Guilds Group board and currently chairs their Industry Skills Board.