BPP recently surveyed the Guardian’s top 300 graduate employers in order to better understand their plans for apprenticeships following the introduction of the levy in May 2017. James Hammill, Director of Apprenticeships at BPP explains more…
The results of this survey made it clear that apprenticeships are going to become an integral part of large employers’ talent and development strategies with 94% of those surveyed intending to use the apprenticeship levy to support staff development. What was most striking was that these employers planned to make apprenticeships available to all. This could include school leavers, graduates and traditional recruits as well as existing employees irrespective of age or level.
The catalyst for this has been the development of Higher, Degree and Masters level apprenticeships which has created programme opportunities for people and roles previously excluded from apprenticeships.
The consensus amongst the surveyed employers was that having a clearly defined and supported long term apprenticeship strategy was the key to making such programmes successful. This point was echoed when I interviewed a panel of employers in January including the NHS, Santander, Zurich and Transport for London. Each of them had a well thought out long term strategy which, although different in many ways, had a number of similarities which could be helpful to other employers considering their approach.
The starting point for each of these strategies was the answer to a simple question, namely, what business problems were apprenticeships going to solve? This required executive level staff to debate the business benefits of apprenticeships and how they could align to the organisation’s aims.
For Zurich this was to professionalise the workforce. For Santander it was to become the number one bank for customer service and for the NHS, solve the nursing shortage. All of these organisations agreed that a short term strategy based on just spending the levy was unlikely to lead to a sustainable and embedded development programme that would help them prosper.
The second consideration was financial.
The board needed to be convinced that investing in apprenticeships made financial as well as business sense. Each of the organisations had to commission their finance teams to evaluate cost and benefits. This included estimates of reduced national insurance (apprentices under the age of 25 are exempt from employers NI for the duration of the apprenticeship), improved retention, improved productivity, levy utilization and other figures particular to their organisation.
They all concluded that apprenticeships made a compelling case financially and by documenting it formally, executive sign off to make the investment was easier to come by.
At the panel interview, employers went on to discuss how they considered future workforce plans and their overarching talent strategy when finalizing their plans. Reviewing skills needed today and in the future had a considerable impact on their apprenticeship plans.
Santander discussed how they looked at how apprenticeships support the strategic direction and add value to their organisation. This enabled them to offer development across a whole range of roles from entry level schemes to their very first degree programme. Zurich discussed how their graduates may join master’s level apprenticeships in the future which supported the results from our levy survey which showed that over 50% of employers would consider graduates joining an apprenticeship.
One commonality throughout the debate was that they all wanted to use apprenticeships as a development tool to allow people to progress through levels and support them at whatever stage of their career. Whether this was a new recruit on an entry level apprenticeship or an experienced member of staff using a degree apprenticeship to support their plans to change careers.
It was noted that there are challenges with apprenticeships such as the minimum length of programme being 12 months and the potential negative perceptions of the apprenticeship brand internally and externally, but they concluded that apprenticeships, blended with other training and development programmes, were an excellent tool to help their organisation achieve its aims and objectives.