With Brexit creating uncertainty and bringing skills shortages to the forefront, employers are under quite a bit of pressure. As a result, apprenticeships are being seen as an invaluable investment for a wide range of business sectors. But the perception of what an apprenticeship is remains quite outdated since they are often viewed as an option only for those wishing to pursue a trade or other manual work. Hiring an apprentice is a productive and effective way for a business to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce. They can help employers address a range of recruitment challenges, including diversifying the staff base and overcoming the key hurdles associated with an ageing workforce. 

The levy introduced by the government in 2017 incentivises employers of all sizes and sectors to offer approved apprenticeship qualifications as part of their recruitment programme. Companies with a payroll exceeding £3 million are required to pay into the levy and receive 100% funding for most apprenticeships. Companies with a payroll below £3 million need not pay into the levy but can still benefit from 90% funding against approved apprenticeships.

Businesses in the UK are already reaping the rewards of apprenticeship programmes, whether they’re in retail, financial services, technology and healthcare services, consumer brands, or in the public sector. They have found multiple benefits of offering apprenticeships, including the ability to attract the best candidates, create a talent pipeline across an organisation, boost morale and increase productivity. With the looming skills shortages in the NHS, for instance, hundreds of different apprenticeship opportunities are currently being offered across health services. The roles, such as nursing, midwifery, occupational therapy, and operating department practice are now promoting up to degree-level apprenticeships. However, not enough businesses are embracing this scheme with 93% of UK business owners and managers still saying they won’t or don’t know if they’ll be making use of the levy, despite only having until May to spend their initial funds (DPG, 2019) and a recent freedom of information request revealed that four out of five businesses paying the levy have still not taken on a single apprentice. So why should your organisation start to take advantage of this?

Despite the widely held view that apprenticeships are predominately for school-leavers with little or no qualifications, apprenticeships start at entry-level GCSE qualifications and rise incrementally to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Employers would, therefore, be wise to factor apprenticeships into their workforce planning strategy. Doing so not only provides a cost-effective way to recruit new employees and upskill the current workforce, but also helps in creating predefined career paths for their workforce.

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Apprenticeships can also increase diversity across the workforce by opening employment and training opportunities to a range of people with varying levels of experience and backgrounds. Through improving diversity and inclusion, apprenticeships can help fulfil many components of a company’s CSR objectives, which lead to better brand recognition, positive business reputation and increased sales and customer loyalty.

Offering apprenticeship opportunities enables employers to attract a range of new talent, including high-calibre school-leavers who are keen to earn a degree but are unwilling or unable to take on student debt. It can be widely seen in the media the effect that these apprenticeships can have on individuals with this type of programme being praised for offering individuals the opportunity to both upskill themselves and be remunerated at the same time. Degree apprenticeships also provide a cost-effective avenue for employers to recruit and retain top prospective graduates, plugging essential skills gaps whilst also providing opportunities to those from less privileged backgrounds. Such graduates of an employer apprenticeship programme are likely to develop an attachment to the company and are therefore more likely to remain after graduation.

While many organisations acknowledge the need for gender diversity, there still remains fewer women at higher management and directorship levels. This is partially due to women stepping out of the workforce at middle or senior manager level, often for child or elder care reasons. Professional apprenticeships can offer an attractive option for those wishing to return to the workforce after an extended career break. They can also attract those who are interested in a career change or have experienced redundancy later in their careers.

Offering apprenticeships enables employers to gain access to this high-calibre talent pool and provides a practical solution by attracting a demographic of highly qualified, experienced and motivated workers. In return, these workers offer maturity and stability along with the existing skills and business acumen gained earlier in their careers.

Ross Crook, Senior Vice President – Client Services at Cielo

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