5 Steps to develop an Apprenticeship Strategy

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So, your company are paying the Apprenticeship Levy and you are thinking about employing an apprentice or two before the money in your Digital Account expires.  You’ve read the rules, you understand about training providers and external assessors …. But where to start?  Do you just employ a young person, pick an apprenticeship that looks vaguely useful and hope for the best?

As with all new projects, the more you put in to the planning stages, the more likely you are to benefit from it.  Writing an Apprenticeship Strategy can help you identify and communicate across departments what it is you want to achieve and how you are going to get there. Here is where you can pick up some useful tips to get the ball rolling.

Benefits and Challenges

No-one says it was easy to plan an Apprenticeship Strategy.  Apprenticeships add complexity to the planning process because you are employing unskilled recruits who simply have potential.  This means that you have to be thinking about recruiting for skilled people 6 – 12 months BEFORE you actually need those skills.  You also need to think about resources to supervise the apprentice or apprentices and you need to recognise that although you are paying less for the apprentice than a fully qualified member of staff, they will need time off for training – which, of course, needs to be covered too. 

Are you put off yet?!

To get started, it’s important to understand that Apprentices are not a ‘quick fix’ skill solution.  To some extent they go against the fluid mobile workforce model that has become common in today’s UK economy whereby HR identify a specific job role and then appoint someone that more or less meets its key requirements.  We know this model has its problems.  In as many as 50% of cases the employee leaves or is dismissed within a few months. HR starts again.

In contrast, apprentices come with little baggage and employer research shows that apprentices start paying their way as early as 6 months in to their apprenticeships.  They can be easily developed to work in your organisation’s desired way of working. You can tailor their training pathway to exactly match your organisation’s needs.  For many businesses, apprentices are the pathway to senior management and will be taking higher and higher apprenticeship courses as they progress. Out of all your workforce, they are likely to be the people that are going to stay with the company.  The core backbone that will move and develop within your company as it grows.

Apprentices are also a brilliant tool for developing in-house resource.  Think about all the capacity that your company outsources.  Will you be in a better position if you brought this resource in house in the future?  Apprenticeships are a great way to manage that transition.

Finally, apprenticeships are an opportunity to diversify your workforce – to employ talented people that you would normally not have access to.  Put bluntly, if you are constantly recruiting from a pool of trained and experienced staff, you are recruiting from an ever decreasing pool.  Widen that to include people who have potential – then you are suddenly looking at a much larger pool. 

So what does an apprenticeship strategy look like?

Step ONE: Do your research

Writing an apprenticeship strategy is very similar to an HR one and indeed should be embedded in to it.  As with your HR strategy you will be asking yourself, has your organisation got the internal capability to deliver its business goals – the difference being you need to act on it 1 year in advance.

To start off with, identify roles that are likely to need recruitment over the next couple of years?  Ie either new roles or existing roles where you know there is a natural turnover.  Can you restructure departments so that instead of getting another experienced and trained person, you can employ a much cheaper apprentice and spend some of the other resources on the apprentice supervision? 

Think about skills you are currently outsourcing.  Is this something that you will want to bring in-house as your company expands?

Have you got existing staff who are not equipped with the skills that you think they will need for the future of your company?  This is particularly true with tech departments and companies who have constantly changing skill needs.  Remember, you can use money from your Digital Account to start existing staff on to Apprenticeships.  Can you embed your learning and training strategy with your apprenticeship strategy?  Instead of providing a training course, can that learning be mapped on to an existing apprenticeship which would then help you to make savings on your training budget?

Research the apprenticeship frameworks and standards by going on https://findapprenticeshiptraining.sfa.bis.gov.uk/

On this site you can tap in words like ‘IT Network Engineer’ or ‘Accounting’ and search for the apprenticeships on offer.  The site provides information about the apprenticeships within those sectors, the level they are at and a 1 pager on the course content.  This site will also provide you with information about the training providers you can choose from in your area who deliver this apprenticeship.

Once you have established your needs for the future 2 years - the number of apprentices, their courses and the levels that you want them to start at, imagine your company in 4 / 5 years’ time with this cohort of apprentices.  How many more first rung apprentices would you like to take on after that and how many of the existing apprentices will you want to develop further? 

Step TWO: Get Senior Management ‘Buy in’ and Set your Business Goals

Apprenticeships will often engender a cultural shift within the company and for that reason it is important to have senior management ‘buy in’ and to involve them as much as possible in the research process.  Remember, they are likely to be as much in the dark as you are.  Give them a list of the benefits of apprenticeships such as those I have named above and provide them with case studies of how other companies have used apprentices to develop their businesses. 

You can find case studies on https://www.managers.org.uk/insights/news/2017/june/three-case-studies-of-how-the-apprenticeship-levy-will-help-employers

Get them to identify what it is that they want to achieve through apprenticeships - the business benefits and goals.  Pin this down at the beginning so that you can use it to evaluate your progress as your strategy unfolds.

Step THREE: Appoint an Apprenticeship Champion

Companies who are most successful with apprentices have an Apprenticeship Champion (even if they are not called that).  This is someone (perhaps you) who will be the expert within the company and who will communicate the apprenticeship strategy across the company’s departments – helping internal managers to see the benefits of apprenticeships within their teams and supporting them to re-structure around it.  If you have only a few apprentices within the company, it doesn’t have to be a full time job, but it still needs someone to manage the strategy and to ensure that it holds momentum.

Step FOUR: Write an Action Plan

As with all project planning, you need an action plan – it can be quite simple – of who is doing what and when.  By this time you will probably have established which apprenticeships you want and how many new people you want to recruit.  If you want to recruit school leavers, take in to consideration that recruitment is obviously best through the summer when there are plenty of school leavers, though in fact, it is best to alert young people of the opportunities available even before their exams – sometimes as early as October.  Again, its all a process of thinking well in advance. 

You are also likely to be in contact with one or two training providers.  Make sure they are involved in this Action Plan.  Get them to come up with suggestions of actions that you haven’t thought about.  If they are good, they are likely to be able to carry out some of the actions, such as apprenticeship recruitment.  They may be able to provide seminars for your managers so that they are better prepared and know what to expect.  At ELATT we recognise that for some employers, this is the first time they have employed anybody under 25.  Younger people come with their own challenges and benefits. We produce handy guides on how to recruit and get the best out of young members of staff. 

Step FIVE: Evaluate and Develop

.As you instigate the strategy, check to see if it is working towards your desired results. 

Communicate with managers to find out how things can be improved.  How the process might be made easier or more productive.  For instance, perhaps the managers need more support and training in working with this different cohort. 

Praise good practice and disseminate that through the departments in order to ‘big up’ the successes of both the individual apprentices and the teams that have supported them.

Good Luck!

We hope that you have found this blog useful. ELATT are a charity that helps Londoners – old and young – to achieve their potential through top class training.  (We are Ofsted Grade1).  We also help London employers to achieve improved Diversity and Inclusion within their Workforces.  Apprenticeships are just ONE of the areas that we work in. 

If you would like some more help in your Apprenticeship Strategy or you are interested, in ELATT as a charity, please go to either www.elatt.org.uk/apprenticeships or www.elatt.org.uk/employers

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