Faresh Maisuria, Managing Director, Blueberry Marketing Solutions

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy and the government’s target of 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020 has many colleges and training providers feeling the pressure.

Additionally, research conducted by the City & Guilds Group found that some businesses feel that educational institutions don’t always provide skills that are relevant in their workforce.

What can further education providers do to bridge this gap?

We partnered with Calderdale College to support the introduction of a new gateway service, Rise, part of a broader organisation transformation to ensure the college was customer-centric and market led.

Rise focuses on enhancing business productivity by addressing an organisations skills challenges through access to training, funded opportunities and specialist impartial advice on skills support.

This single destination for a business’s skills and training needs supports them across their entire lifecycle. We’re working alongside Calderdale College to engage businesses in the region with the new Rise programme, as part of a targeted communications strategy surrounding the launch.

Holistic business engagement

Rise aims to build relationships and support businesses as they go through the different stages of their growth journey. The objective being to move away from a purely transactional relationship as a provider of training courses to a much more collaborative partnership. Calderdale College are positioned as a trusted supplier of end to end training solutions with their messaging focused on addressing real business issues which aim to help boost productivity and increase profitability.

By having a holistic view to business engagement, the offering is multifaceted, signposting organisations to the most relevant service depending upon their current position and growth plans. Although apprenticeships are a core focus for the college, the programme is solution-led; the aim being to drive uptake by working with businesses to identify their training needs and how apprenticeships may fit these requirements.

Where apprenticeships do not reflect the needs of the business at that moment in time, the broader training portfolio within the Rise umbrella provides other opportunities to build relationships with organisations. Relationships which will hopefully one day pay dividends in terms of new apprentice starts.

Understanding the market

As part of a research report into the employer perspectives of the apprenticeship levy the City & Guilds and ILM collaboration found that only 7% of those surveyed stated that there was no blockers to them being able to spend their levy.

Rise sets out to support the widest possible business audience, addressing some of the key challenges and blockers which this research has identified. Alongside Calderdale College we have designed an ongoing outbound lead generation strategy taking into account segmentation principles such as modelling data around behavioural indicators and business demographic.

The initial roll out of Rise has been delivered through a targeted content marketing strategy informed around the needs and priorities of the business audience. This initial stage has seen our partnership increase business awareness and a third of businesses with decision maker engagement have progressed further to meet with the Rise team.

The longer-term delivery of Rise will encompass a multi-channel engagement strategy, educating and nurturing different business segments along their growth journeys. In creating an engagement pathway designed specifically for each business, Rise are able to build quality relationships.

Maximising business engagement for the longer term

The Association of Colleges reported that the biggest concern of the apprenticeship levy for colleges is that not enough businesses are willing to offer apprenticeships (68%). Calderdale College are addressing this through Rise by offering a gateway service which is customer centric instead of leading solely with apprenticeships where this may not be the most relevant support for the business at that moment in time.

Having a multi-faceted approach not only helps them meet critical business engagement targets but also facilitates the creation of longer lasting business relationships to ensure longevity of outputs. This will be advantageous when they require companies to facilitate work placements for the upcoming T Levels.

Colleges as trusted advisors

Since the introduction of the levy, apprenticeship starts have dropped and confusion has been felt amongst non-levy paying companies. The new funding environment presents many challenges and opportunities for both businesses and colleges.

As businesses may now require someone to step up and help guide them through the vast amount of support and funding that is available, colleges now more than ever have the opportunity to position themselves as a trusted support mechanism.

Calderdale College’s solution-led approach has enabled them not only to position themselves as a trusted partner but also to act as an advisory service, helping SMEs to navigate the complexities of the support available and offering a place for businesses to turn to for education and reassurance.

Keeping things in perspective

Rise’s approach helps Calderdale College to effectively hit the all-important business engagement targets whilst at the same time positioning themselves as a trusted source for realising improvement and skills expertise in the business community.

Ultimately, apprenticeships help individuals from all backgrounds have access to further education while allowing employers to help shape and build the workforce for the needs of the UK economy.

This last point is crucial as research from the City & Guilds Guide showed that 38% of employers feel that the education system is not creating the skilled people they need. Through Rise, Calderdale College have been working with businesses to better understand how they can help address this issue.

Faresh Maisuria, Managing Director, Blueberry Marketing Solutions

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