As the fifth annual National Apprenticeship Week draws to a close, now seems like a good time to catch our collective breath, and reflect on what has been achieved and what might happen next.

This week has seen positive messages about Apprenticeships delivered by Government, the National Apprenticeship Service, employers and training providers, like Kaplan. The Prime Minister himself announced the new round of Government funding to support thousands of Apprenticeships up to degree equivalent, helping to deliver the world class skills firms need to drive growth. It’s no wonder that the Government continues to support Apprenticeships, when data from the National Audit Office shows that for every £1 of public funds invested in Apprenticeships the return is £18.

Whilst it is fantastic to have the most senior government officials back Apprenticeships, it is equally important to highlight the advantages of taking on an apprentice using examples of companies and organisations that are already reaping the benefits. The statistics show that for employers, training apprentices can be more cost effective than hiring skilled staff. Research with employers also highlights that apprentices make a difference to the bottom line by making businesses more competitive and increasing productivity. Yet, this is often best explained with real life examples, especially for those within the SME sector.

In my role as Head of Apprenticeships at Kaplan I get to meet a number of businesses every week who are advocates for Apprenticeships. As Apprenticeship Week wraps up for this year, it is important that these employers are encouraged to continue to share their positive experiences either in the media, through social networking platforms or via their own professional and personal networks. I look forward to seeing what opportunities there might be to harness these employer voices via the new marketing campaign for Apprenticeships launched this week.

Of course, we all know that trading times are tough. Even with a defined marketing campaign and endorsement from businesses just like theirs, employers may feel nervous about investing in an apprentice. Yet, there has never been a more important time to secure a competitive edge. Indeed, at Kaplan we are already seeing an increase in interest and demand for our Customer Service and Business and Administration Apprenticeships this year.

With the race to capture consumer cash more competitive than ever, good customer service has never been so important for companies and this is an issue that can be addressed with the right staff training, coaching and mentoring. For other clients, and especially for SMEs, bringing in a Business and Administration apprentice has allowed them to build capacity, with senior staff freed up to concentrate on strategic issues whilst the apprentice adds real talent to the team.

Also,  with the added financial incentive of the AGE grant for employers who are new to Apprenticeships and with the statistical data that demonstrates the business benefits of Apprenticeships, it’s clear that in 2012 there has never been a better time to offer an Apprenticeship. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues, clients and Kaplan apprentices to help deliver these positive messages about Apprenticeships not only this week, but in the 52 weeks ahead of National Apprenticeship Week 2013 too.

If you’d like to find out more information about how you and your business can benefit from Apprenticeships, take a look at the Kaplan website which has all you need to know on the topic – www.kaplanvocational.co.uk/vocational

Louise Timperley is head of Apprenticeships at Kaplan, a provider of lifelong education and training, with programmes including Apprenticeships, vocational training, professional qualifications, online learning and degree programmes

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