From education to employment

How can businesses use apprenticeships as a workforce planning tool?

Nichola Hay

UK CEOs are optimistic about the global economy, but concerns arise about the future of UK businesses. The article emphasises using apprenticeship programs to bridge skills gaps, boost staff retention, and enhance workforce planning for long-term resilience and growth.

According to the latest Global CEO Survey from PwC, the majority of UK CEO’s (61%) expect the global economy to strengthen over the next 12 months, a huge improvement on last year’s results, in which just 21% expressed the same sentiment.

Despite this positive outlook on the global economy, there is a marked shift in perspective when it comes to the future of UK business. In fact, in another study from Fidelity, one-fifth of UK chief executives believe their businesses will not be economically viable in the next ten years due to factors such as rapidly rising operational costs and a lack of clarity on interest rates.

In addition to the above, a key area of concern for company leaders is the so-called ‘war for talent’, which continues to impact UK businesses, with research suggesting that around 75% are facing talent shortages – a challenge which has considerable impact on an organisations’ growth.

To face these economic headwinds, companies must prepare new strategies for building business resilience and creating opportunities for growth. To achieve this, it is crucial to plan for and maintain a highly skilled and productive workforce to support the organisation through economic uncertainties.

Business leaders often underestimate the role that apprenticeship programmes can play as a workforce planning tool, and question whether apprenticeships are worth their time and money. However, when successfully integrated into day-to-day business operations, apprenticeships could lead to several opportunities for economic growth.

Tailoring an apprenticeship programme to your business needs

When incorporating apprenticeship programmes into your company, there are a few matters to bear in mind. Before beginning this process, business and HR leaders must work together to gather all relevant data on the current state of the workforce.

This will help business leaders identify any skills gaps in their current operation, pinpointing areas where action is needed to act as a guide for future benchmarking purposes.

For SMEs in particular – many of whom may not have the financial capacity for an entire L&D department – finding the right training provider to help design the most effective apprenticeship programme is essential. These experts can help identify where support is most needed in the business and design a cost-effective programme best suited to address this concern.

The challenge of bridging critical skills gaps

Finding the right talent and filling skills gaps in the workforce, especially in emerging areas such as green skills where there’s a lack of relevant experience in the talent market, is expected to continue challenging employers.

This will also pose an additional threat to staff retention rates as, due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and labour shortages, employees may seek to negotiate pay increases or, worse, move to other roles at competitor organisations.

As such, employers will need to look at ways to upskill their employees, so that they can have a more resilient workforce.

The true value of apprenticeship programmes

Many business leaders often assume that apprenticeships are exclusively for school and college leavers. However, it is important to note that apprenticeships are for all ages and skill levels, and can be used for professional development, upskilling the current workforce, and attracting new and diverse talent.

For example, if you have identified a potential gap in your current workforce, such as a lack of suitable staff in middle management, then implementing the right apprenticeship programme means you are able to retrain junior staff for promotion into those missing positions.

This eliminates the process of having to search for talent externally in a tricky labour market, and the possibility of settling for someone less skilled than desired. As such, using apprenticeships as a workforce planning tool unlocks the current workforce’s true potential, while simultaneously improving employee morale.

Boosting staff retention

In addition to helping address recruitment issues, the right apprenticeship programme can also help prevent any potential loss of staff within the current workforce, which often hinders successful workforce planning.

For example, offering tailored training and development opportunities can demonstrate the business’ commitment towards the personal development of its employees, encouraging them to remain and grow within the business.

Additionally, sharing the stories of candidates who have successfully completed apprenticeships as case studies can be a useful marketing tool to help with an external recruitment drive.

Final thoughts

It’s important to acknowledge that apprenticeships should not be regarded as a ‘silver bullet’ for all business needs, however they can certainly provide an excellent solution to many critical problems, especially when it comes to identifying gaps in an existing workforce and bringing new talent into the business.

A well-developed programme tailored to company and employee priorities is an effective method of ensuring your organisation is in a position to establish long-term resilience and deliver on its business goals in the long run.

By Nichola Hay, Director of Apprenticeship Strategy and Policy at BPP

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