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Apprenticeships are a hot topic at the moment. In today’s competitive market, they are used by employers as an effective tool to upskill staff while also recruiting and retaining top talent. However, the most recent figures from the DfE show that apprenticeships starts fell by 61% in 2017 – news that has cast concerns around the effectiveness of training and the changes to the apprenticeship system.

Jill Whittaker, Managing Director at HIT Training – the largest training and apprenticeship provider in the hospitality industry – talks about the benefits of the new apprenticeship standards and how training should be seen as the first arm of defence to combat staff shortages:

While these figures might sound worrying, I think they’re being viewed out of context and are misunderstood.

In fact, I firmly believe that the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and switchover to the new apprenticeship standards has made training even more relevant and rigorous than ever before.

The Apprenticeship Levy

Far from being a sign of disinterest in apprenticeships, it’s my experience that the fall in apprenticeship starts in 2017 is largely due to Levy-paying employers taking the time needed to get to grips with the funding and make sure they have the best value programme in place.

Businesses have 24 months to use their Levy payments so they have taken advantage of the time allowed, rather than rushing this process.

Equally, for smaller employers who aren’t paying the Levy, they are having to adjust to the new system where a 10% contribution is required towards apprenticeships.

Whilst this is excellent value for money, businesses need to think hard about spending in today’s economy, so uptake has taken due consideration.  

A year on from the Apprenticeship Levy’s introduction and the number of apprenticeship starts has increased significantly, especially in the hospitality sector.

In May 2017, starts were at 25% of the same month in 2016; by October that had increased to 80%.

This shows to me that confidence in apprenticeships is still strong and I’m certain we will see numbers not only back to normal but increasing throughout this year.

Raising the Standards of Training

Looking to the effectiveness of today’s apprenticeships and you only have to consider that the new standards have been developed by sector-specific trailblazer groups.

As a result, they are even more tailored to industries and allow organisations to incorporate their own ways of working, whilst ensuring national standards are met – all positives for employers and the apprentices themselves.  

The standards also offer progressive career pathways and incorporate the knowledge, skills and behaviours of employers, further raising the quality of the training on offer.

In the hospitality industry, we’re already starting to see the benefits of the new standards and have had 35 learners complete the full end point assessment.

As the standards become further embedded, we foresee an increase in apprenticeships being used as a way to forge long-lasting employee relationships and combat the skills shortage.

According to the Government, 80% of employers experience a significant increase in staff retention from hiring an apprentice – clearly highlighting their benefits.

Preparing for Brexit

Encouraging more people to take up an apprenticeship has never been more important. The triggering of Article 50 means that the next couple of years are going to be quite testing for businesses – especially for sectors which employ a large number of EU citizens.

To minimise the impact Brexit has on recruitment, employers need to use the next few years to develop the productivity of their current workforce and encourage more British citizens to join their sector.

This is where the benefits of the Apprenticeship Levy and new standards come into their own, as apprenticeships are a great way of helping to up-skill and cross-skill current and future staff.

In fact, one in three apprentices receive a promotion within a year of completing their course and over 70% stay with their employer after completing their qualification.

Identifying the right partner

When going into battle against recruitment challenges it’s essential to join forces with an elite squad of training professionals.

With the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy came the arrival of many new apprenticeship providers and there’s been a lot in the press about how not all training is making the grade.

I’d urge anyone looking to set up an apprenticeship programme to do their due diligence.

Over 80% of independent providers (i.e. those that aren’t colleges or local authorities) are judged to be Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, so if you do your homework you can absolutely find the right partner.

If implemented strategically and by using a highly-qualified training provider to help, apprenticeships can become the go-to solution for employers looking to attract, retain and develop talent from new starters, right through to senior-level employees.

Apprenticeships – great for staff, great for business, great for social mobility, great for the UK economy.

Jill Whittaker, Managing Director at HIT Training

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