"The business community sees the Apprenticeship Levy as a way to solve skills shortages, with concerns raised about levels of understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead.” Rebecca Hayes, Director of Sales at BMet

At a recent briefing by Sue Husband, Director of the National Apprenticeship Service hosted at BMet, the West Midlands business community identified their top two opportunities when adopting the Apprenticeship Levy.

The first is to turn the Levy into a workforce investment, with programmes identified and developed to up-skill existing staff. Secondly, employers want their future recruitment strategies to include early talent spotting opportunities, using focused training programmes as a way of ensuring improved workplace productivity and staff retention.

BMet welcomed over 40 of the region’s employers from a diverse range of sectors, including business and professional services, construction, health, infrastructure, manufacturing, tourism and the public sector. The message received, loud and clear is that as one of the West Midland’s leading training providers, it is vital that BMet is flexible in its delivery models and responsive to market changes and requirements.

A combination of market factors, customer needs and government legislation means that the region’s businesses have to be proactive if they are to compete and operate effectively. They must review skills programmes, content and delivery models to ensure that they work for each sector’s specific needs.

From listening to feedback, we know that attendees see the Levy as part of the solution to improve our skills profile and to get a wider source of skilled labour to meet the increased demand that we expect in the coming years.

Innovative steps have been taken by market-leading firms that attended our event to address skills shortages in advance of the new Levy; with necessity being the mother of invention. Many have already embraced vocational, in-work training programmes to attract, train and retain talent.

A big challenge across all sectors is how to motivate existing workforces to gain skills. The positioning of Apprenticeship programmes for current members of staff is critical as “up-skilling” has been seen as something only for young people. Skills providers need to support our local business communities to break through the misconception that, as a more mature worker, an Apprenticeship “isn’t for me”. Indeed, the developments of new higher level Apprenticeships through to degree level qualifications, opens up a valuable route to lifelong learning.

Recent political distractions seem to have affected promotion of the new Levy, with firms feeling that information has been slow to come through. BMet is committed to working closely with colleagues at the Skills Funding Agency to improve communication flow. Updates will be held during autumn to discuss and agree sector-specific information that will enable the Levy to be utilised effectively come April 2017.

Our challenge is clear. With a thriving economy and a growing skills gap, businesses have a prerogative to improve the skills and education of our population in order to guarantee that we provide access to jobs that will fuel our economic renaissance.

BMet works with UK employers and global companies to deliver Apprenticeships and employer-led training as well as work experience/placement opportunities for further and higher education students.

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