20% off job training time should be seen as an opportunity to make improvements in business rather than seen as a drain on productivity.

One of the biggest factors that has contributed to the decrease in apprenticeship uptake since the Apprenticeship Levy in May 2017 is the requirement for 20% off the job training (OTJT) . Many employers are concerned that taking an apprentice off the job for a fifth of their working week negatively impacts the productivity of the workplace. This viewpoint is particularly prevalent when employers have existing employees developing their skills through an apprenticeship programme.

All stakeholders of the apprenticeship programmes need to recognise how the 20% off the job training requirement is a perfect opportunity for encouraging business growth.  Personally, I have always put a return on investment challenge into the programmes that I have delivered; apprenticeship or not.

It is important to highlight to learners that their organisation is investing time and money into their development and this benefits not only the business but also the employee, so much so, that they would be able to take these new knowledge and skills into further progressing their own careers. As such they should be willing to return the investment by using these new skills and knowledge to the benefit of the organization which is funding them.

With 19% of organisations choosing to view the apprenticeship levy as a tax, and a further 22% undecided whether to write it off or use it for apprenticeships, they could be missing out on an opportunity to grow their own talent and make improvements in their businesses.  Perhaps if apprentices are challenged to give a return on investment equivalent or higher than the cost of their apprenticeship programme, this viewpoint might turn on its head.

It doesn’t do any harm to disclose exactly how much a programme costs; it might actually help everyone concerned to understand that it is the value gained from the investment not the cost that is important.  Every effort should be made to encourage the yield of this investment.

There are many outcomes from which to task an apprentice with a ROI project eg:

  • increase sales
  • reduce costs
  • innovate a new service or product
  • increase footfall
  • reduce complaints
  • streamline processes

…the options are endless, all of which can be worked on as part of the 20% off the job training.  

Remember that apprentices are not just an extra pair of hands, they are there to learn and have a right to their study time. Much has already been written about activities that count towards learning time, spending some of this time on ROI projects is both a valid activity and a chance to make a lasting improvement or development. 

I’ve often heard it said, when faced with a new piece of technology, “where is a 10 year old when you need one?’” Having a fresh pair of ‘generation Y’ eyes on your business problems might just provide the solution you’ve been searching for.

Google has been well known for its unique approach to encouraging innovation through ‘20% time’.

Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin highlighted the importance of this management method in a Founders’ IPO letter to prospective investors in 2004: “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google,” the pair wrote. “This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.”

AdSense, which now accounts for about 25 percent of Google’s total revenue, Gmail, Google Transit and Google News were all born out of 20% time and demonstrates just what an open mind to different ways of working can achieve.  

Businesses would do well to follow in the footsteps of the giant and be open (if not insistent ) to using this 20% OTJ to make improvements in their own businesses instead of being ‘busy being busy’ on operational tasks and bemoaning the ‘loss of productivity’. After all, the levy provides a significant opportunity to improve the apprenticeship programmes and make them more responsive to employers needs.  Why not exploit the opportunity as much as possible?

But can young apprentices really have that much impact on a business?

Absolutely yes! In my experience on a recent pilot apprenticeship programme with Magnet, apprentices volunteered to pitch their ideas to senior managers in a Dragon’s Den style presentation. They all developed at least one idea to give a return on investment to the company. Senior managers were, and I quote “blown away” with the potential improvements and ideas that the individual apprentices put forward and some of these were viable enough to have been taken forward for proof of concept. 

Magnet is a shining example of how effectively planned and organised 20% off the job training can greatly increase the chance of learner retention and achievement of apprentices and are now in their second year of growing talent to retain in the business.  I believe much of this is down to ensuring that apprentices take their study time seriously, are engaged in meaningful and stretching activities and are accountable for it to a team of mentors, managers and senior leaders as well as their Learning Provider. The whole business appears to have bought into the value of the apprenticeship programme and when the levy came in, they were unfazed by the 20% off the job time, in fact they embraced it.

As the first year of the new Apprenticeship standards zooms to a close in a few months time, I hope that we will see that the new wave of apprentices have found their apprenticeship programme to be instrumental in advancing their career and that the 20% off the job learning has allowed them to fully understand and become competent in their chosen field. 

I wish them all the best for their upcoming end point assessment.  As for the employers and training providers, this provides an opportunity to evaluate the success of the new programmes and to encourage a greater uptake in 2018.

Lisa Bristow, Director, The Bristow partnership Ltd

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