From education to employment

Why colleges are key to making the new Digital Apprenticeship Service a success

A new, compulsory self-service portal for all businesses wanting to take on new apprentices could put some smaller and time-poor businesses off the idea, but colleges have an essential role to play to make this change work to an apprenticeship employer’s advantage, says Emma Ingram, Head of Employer Engagement and Sales at Coventry College.

National Apprenticeship Week is a fitting time for us to take a momentary pause to reflect on what progress the UK is making within the apprenticeship arena.

The Department of Education has revealed that 389,200 students started apprenticeships in the 2018/19 academic year, an increase of around 20,000 students compared to 2017/18 – a sizeable increase that should be applauded and gives solid foundations to build upon.

That said, a lot of work still needs to be done to ensure that the UK reaches its true potential when it comes to apprenticeships. Having more students interested in pursuing an apprenticeship is good news, but you need companies of all sizes tuned in to the benefits of apprenticeships to be able to facilitate the demand.

Many local SME companies form a core part of the apprenticeship employers that we work with at Coventry College, but operating within this business community has also opened our eyes to some of the myths that still stand true with some firms. For example, one company we spoke to recently, assumed that an apprentice’s training and wages would be covered by the College.

However, there are some fantastic advantages which far outweigh the initial financial costs of adding an apprentice to the ranks – the tech-savvy generation can substantially support new and established businesses with promotion via social media, and provide additional creative input and innovative ideas.

The reality, of course, is that appointing an apprentice is a cost-efficient way of recruiting for the long-term future, and investing in future skills which many SMEs rely upon – new apprentices also generally start on an entry-level wage with scope to develop and grow, hence improving chances of employee loyalty.

Bearing in mind the economic uncertainty, it is easy to see why time-poor SME businesses may be put off by the introduction of the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s new Digital Apprenticeship Service, which will require all businesses to manage the administrative process themselves via an online portal.

This new service will require employers to set up their own online profile, and claim funding themselves before allocating the money to the college of their choice, and will be responsible for all of the paperwork, whereas beforehand they could rely a lot more on their respective College to manage costs and other associated processes.

While on the face of it, this looks daunting for businesses with additional paperwork, my immediate advice to them is don’t let this put you off, and secondly, seek advice from your local college on how they can assist you with the new online process. For example, at Coventry College, we have our own newly appointed Apprenticeship Service Coordinator who can help employers understand and implement the new system.

The new digital service is being rolled out from January 2020 onwards, and over the coming months Coventry College will be holding employers’ hands so that the administrative-burden for smaller companies is minimised, and the benefits of having an apprentice on board are maximised.

This “going above-and-beyond” approach by Colleges is going to be absolutely crucial to ensure employers become tuned into the long-term benefits of employing apprentices, which ultimately, will help their bottom lines in the long-run with reduced recruitment costs and a larger workforce to meet client demand.

Apprenticeships are only going to become even more relevant in the future after Brexit-related trade negotiations conclude – both for business owners who are thinking of succession planning, and business start-ups – which is why Coventry College will be pressing ahead to maintain a healthy flow of apprentices and employers over the coming months.

We will be holding our next recruitment session for year 11 school leavers at our Henley campus on Wednesday 26 February, between 3pm and 6pm.

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