From education to employment

Westminster leading the way with the Apprenticeship Levy

The UK Government introduced the apprenticeship levy in April 2017 which enables employers to draw on a government pool of funds to upskill existing staff or hire new staff to plug skills gaps.

A recent FOI (freedom of information) request by apprenticeships company, Multiverse found that there is 111 million pounds worth of apprenticeship levy currently unspent across 140 English councils – this is enough to create more than 10,000 apprenticeships at around £8,655 each.

Westminster City Council is bucking this trend – between 2017 and 2021, the council had 333 apprenticeship starts, against a four-year public sector target of 291. The number has also picked up in the past two years with 143 starts in 2020-21 alone.

The apprenticeship levy was initiated by the UK government in April 2017 for all employers paying a wage bill of more than £3 million per year.

Employers that meet this criterion are required to pay 0.5% of their payroll each month as a levy tax.

This levy can then be reinvested back into their workforce in the form of apprenticeship training.

Westminster City Council utilises the apprenticeship levy to support people of all ages into work, however since the start of the pandemic due to its disproportionate impact on young people, the council has redoubled its effort to support young Westminster residents into employment.

The council’s most recent programme, Tech Lions has supported 18-24 year olds into digital apprenticeships at the council including data analyst, software engineering and digital marketing.

This year, the council also hired twenty-five young people as part of the government’s Kickstart scheme with the view that all those interested progress onto apprenticeships either within the council or with businesses in Westminster.

Westminster resident, Millie joined the council in 2017 as an apprentice and has now progressed to a Senior Engagement Co-ordinator within the Growth, Planning and Housing team.

Speaking of her experience, she said:

“Originally I was thinking of doing a full-time job and didn’t think of doing an apprenticeship but I came across the government website that shows you apprenticeships and it actually looked like a really great opportunity. I didn’t go to university so I don’t have any further qualifications and that’s something that I did want to acquire so that’s why I went for an apprenticeship. Doing an apprenticeship has helped me develop my career path because I wouldn’t have necessarily envisioned myself having a career in the council before. It’s given me a lot of experience and that’s now led me to being here full time. The apprenticeship met my expectations and exceeded it in some ways as well. When I joined the council, I didn’t realise I would be treated as a normal member of staff, I thought I would be treated like a child but I was given a fair chance and was treated equally to everybody else. I was also given a lot of support which has then been continued since my apprenticeship finished. I think the best thing about completing the apprenticeship is becoming full time, so you’re earning more money, you have more responsibility and you are allowed to grow in your job role. My experience at the council has been amazing. I’ve had continued and extended support and I can see myself being here for a long time”.

Swati Bisht-Rawat, Talent Development Lead at Westminster City Council said:

“I think organisations are slowly recognising that apprenticeships offer a huge opportunity both financially and strategically. With Diversity and Inclusion front and centre for most councils at the moment, apprenticeships offer great opportunities to help underrepresented staff groups level up and also bring diverse talent into the organisation. Also, with the ever-expanding range of skills especially in fast growing areas like data and digital, apprenticeships are a perfect opportunity for councils to get skills ready for the future”.

Councillor Matthew Green, Cabinet Member for Business, Planning and Licensing at Westminster City Council said:

“Westminster City Council is committed to unlocking the potential of our young residents including through apprenticeships. By maximising the apprenticeship levy, we have been able to provide hundreds of opportunities to upskill our existing staff and hire local residents, particularly from underrepresented groups. We have been able to achieve this all without having to identify any new funding streams and have significantly over-delivered on our public sector target. While job vacancies are at a high in the UK and while the London economy continues to pick up as we move from Plan B to Plan A, we will continue to maximise the apprentice levy and build on our strong partnerships with local businesses to support local people into employment and give them the skills that they need to get better, higher-paying jobs”.

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