Jenny Catlin, Head of Projects and Product Management, Capita Apprenticeships

This National Apprenticeship Week marks only one month until the new Apprenticeship Levy is introduced. With such a short time to go, many businesses are wondering what their next steps should be.

It may seem like there is a long list of things to consider when planning an apprenticeship strategy but thinking carefully about how to make it work for your organisation, alongside trusted partners, will make it a much less daunting prospect.

Here are three key points to remember when planning your apprenticeship strategy:

Keep it simple

It’s great to have big ambitions, but initially it’s in the company’s best interest to keep things simple. Many employers decide they want to offer lots of different apprenticeship schemes, ending up with one or two apprentices on each, dotted around the country. It’s a costly strategy and difficult to make this work logistically, as they are then faced with managing multiple suppliers to deliver a range of specialist subjects across a number of business functions.

It is much more productive to focus on prioritising a couple of key areas or departments where improvement is needed sooner. This might be one important business driver that has, for example, a major impact on sales. It could be to upskill existing staff, or bring in a more diverse group of employees. Whatever will be the most beneficial, this should be targeted first. Once that is set-up and successful, a staged plan can be rolled out across the rest of the business.

Concentrating on one thing first doesn’t mean there isn’t scope for huge potential however. The range of new apprenticeship standards available provides the opportunity to expand the programme as it is embedded into the business. Employers can be ambitious, as long as they plan out areas of focus over the next few years. Where a business does have niche requirements alongside its mainstream programme, then it is worth considering a managed apprenticeship solution, where a single supplier can source on-board specialist suppliers on their behalf.

Pick your partner carefully

The selection of a training partner for apprenticeships should be approached like any other procurement process. The provider should be one that can meet the requirements of the business. Finding the right one may seem easier said than done, especially for a business that is new to apprenticeships, and especially if they don’t know what they want. The right supplier will be able to help a business identify their starting point and design and deliver a solution that meets its requirement. Good suppliers should also be introducing innovative, flexible and blended learning into their delivery. Gamification, digital content and social learning for example, work well in existing learning and development provision, so where appropriate look to include these activities in your apprenticeship programmes. These elements should be integrated with face-to-face and remote interventions, depending on the nature of the programme, and the needs of the learners.

Another key factor when choosing a provider is their track record. Apprenticeships have been around for years so a good partner should easily be able to demonstrate past successes. Businesses should ask potential partners about success metrics such as pass rates, retention rates, and impact on business outcomes. A good way to garner information is to speak to their existing clients, and even talk to the apprentices if possible. If they can add value with additional services such as recruitment or by supporting a business’ talent pipeline, through government funded pre-employment programmes, that is a huge bonus.

Perhaps most importantly is the ability to future-proof. Plans implemented today will grow and expand, and a provider needs the ability to scale provision to go the distance with the client. As the programme progresses and becomes more established, there needs to be a consistent model that can support the required growth.  

Create an apprenticeship identity

Once the strategy is agreed upon and there is buy-in from the top levels of the business, it is important to think about branding and promoting the apprenticeship programme. By giving it an identity, it will be easier to market both internally and externally. Some companies find it helps to have an official launch of the programme, running alongside an emphasis on great internal communications, or roadshows to regional offices.

Existing staff may not initially be prepared to consider the idea of an apprenticeship, but a well-promoted campaign that really sells the relevance and benefits in terms of career progression, and is shown to be backed company-wide can make a huge difference to take up.

Some businesses we work with have decided that the best thing to do is to “rebrand” their apprenticeship and truly make it their own, for example by naming their leadership and management apprenticeships as ‘Aspire’ or ‘Lead the Way’. If this is best for the business and creates a greater aspiration amongst staff, it is worth considering.

Whilst the above three tips will stand businesses in good stead as the Apprenticeship Levy approaches, there is one overriding point that should be remembered: don’t panic! Once the levy starts, there will still be two years to withdraw funds from the pot. Organisations should start preparing now, but think carefully and strategically about objectives, partners and branding, and follow the tried and tested maxim of “plan, pilot and review”.

Jenny Catlin, Head of Projects and Product Management, Capita Apprenticeships

About Capita Apprenticeships: Part of Capita Learning, the UK’s biggest outsourced learning provider, which touches 900,000 learners per year. It is itself also one of the UK’s biggest employers of apprentices. It has success rates of up to 96%.

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