58% of employers feel middle and senior managers would be unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, despite apprenticeships being a key source of training budget 

Half unaware that funding is available for off-the-job training for all levels of the business – just 57% of those eligible to pay say they are using the new apprenticeship levy.

The stigma surrounding apprenticeships is preventing mid- and senior-level employees from accessing valuable training funds to improve management and leadership skills, according to new research from ILM, the UK’s leading specialist provider of leadership qualifications.

This is despite the fact that just a third (37%) of UK businesses are very confident about their long-term supply of leaders and managers in their organisation.

The research, which looked at the training budgets and preferences of 1,000 UK HR decision makers, reveals that 58% of those surveyed feel middle and senior managers would be unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, citing the “reputation and image” of apprenticeships (53%) and the implication it means they need additional support (41%) as the main reasons for this.

The research also indicates that this is a particularly acute problem in smaller businesses, where 73% believe middle and senior managers wouldn’t be willing to be seen as an apprentice.

Professionals’ reluctance to be seen as an apprentice could be putting businesses at a significant disadvantage. Of those surveyed who currently run a formal leadership training programme to help fill middle and senior management or leadership roles, over two thirds (70%) aim their programmes at mid-level employees.

Yet only a quarter (25%) would consider using apprenticeships to upskill middle managers, and little over a fifth (21%) would consider using them to develop senior managers, demonstrating the impact that these negative perceptions have on higher level apprenticeship training.

Jake Tween, Head of Apprenticeships at ILM, commented on the findings:

“Deeply ingrained associations with trade, low wages and a perception that they put a glass ceiling on progression, mean that apprenticeships have long been dismissed by those aspiring to seniority, and it’s time to put an end to it. We must work collectively – government, employers, and providers – if we are to get to place where these prejudices are considered outdated. "

Meanwhile, UK employers have identified growing leadership skills gaps in their organisations, with half (51%) saying that the supply of leadership and management talent is being affected by factors such as a lack of talent with the right skills and experience, a lack of available talent with the right technical/industry skills and a shortage of candidates willing to take on leadership and management roles.

This gap is set to widen, as employers’ confidence in the future supply of leaders and managers in their organisations falls when looking beyond the next five years.

As businesses struggle with a shortage of talented leaders and managers, upskilling middle and senior managers appears to be a logical solution.

But with nearly a fifth (18%) of businesses predicting cuts in training budgets over the next three years, their ability to tackle this talent deficit is becoming less likely – underlining the opportunity for businesses to overcome stigmas and access apprenticeship funding made available by the levy.

Jake Tween continued, “At a time when businesses are being encouraged to take up apprenticeship programmes and use them to plug their most critical skills gaps, it is important that they are seen as what they really are: a highly effective way for employees at every level to gain the essential skills that businesses so desperately need, as well as a quality route for individuals to progress.”

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