The world of work is changing. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are on the rise. Globalisation continues to expand at a rapid pace. And with Brexit looming, an air of uncertainty hangs over the UK economy.
These seismic shifts are going to have a huge impact on the careers of the future and how people perform these roles. In marketing, IBM Watson is optimising audience targeting. For PAs, AI-powered personal assistants are becoming essential. You could argue that the future is already upon us. As a result, employers are increasingly bemoaning skills gaps when recruiting new employees.
For candidates who are not digitally literate, there’s a real chance of being left behind. For employers, the skills gap means it is becoming harder to effectively fill vacancies. That’s why it’s so important for us to collectively rethink how we equip the workforce with the skills needed to succeed.
As you’ve no doubt heard, the government’s introduction and investment in the Apprenticeship Levy is one way in which the skills gap problem is being addressed.
Implemented in April 2017, the levy is a tax on UK employers with an annual wage bill in excess of £3 million. Importantly, this can be used to fund apprenticeship training — from bringing in young recruits to upskilling existing staff.
Businesses have 24 months after receiving the funds to draw from the pot before it starts to disappear. If you’re an employer considering using the levy, it’s why urgent to act while the ball is still in your court.
To mark National Apprenticeship Week 2019, we look at why upskilling your staff with apprenticeships can help your business achieve the maximum return on investment from your levy fund — helping your people thrive in the process.
Aren’t apprenticeships for young people?
The word “apprenticeship” is loaded with associations. In the minds of many employers, apprenticeships are only for certain types of workers: specifically, young school leavers or those employed in practical, labour-intensive industries such as construction. Though this may have once been the case, today it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The types of apprenticeship programmes are broad in range and cover a number of different job roles within a business. They are designed to intensively train and educate individuals within specific roles — ideal if your business is in a fast-moving sector and you want to be an industry leader. Which, today, every business does.
Apprenticeships are open to people of any age — from a recent graduate in a sales-based role to a member of the senior leadership team. However, given that eligible businesses only accessed 9% of levy funds in 2017-18, employers need to do more to give their staff the opportunity to train through apprenticeships.
Archaic perceptions of what an apprenticeship is can be damaging to a business and its employees. For one, the business may miss out on the unique opportunity to upskill its workforce. Secondly, more experienced employees may be deterred from undertaking an apprenticeship due to the stigma that it is only for young people or infers professional juniority.
Employers who want to make the levy work for their business need to educate their staff on what apprenticeships are and the benefits they can bring. Having an employee with a valuable qualification will make them an asset to your company. Industry standards and trends are constantly evolving, so being able to call on the latest knowledge and skills will prove indispensable in the long run — especially as it becomes harder to fill skills shortages through further employment.
Like other qualifications, apprenticeships are assessed against levels, ranging from 1 to 8. The higher the level, the more intensive the training — and the greater the payoff for business and apprentice.
Why upskill employees with the Apprenticeship Levy?
The official unemployment rate is at the lowest since 1975. While this is great news for the economy, the low candidate pool has the double-edged effect of making it harder for employers to recruit high-quality candidates from outside the business.
That’s why smart businesses are directing their gaze inwards. By using their levy to upskill existing staff, businesses can get a head start on the competition in an increasingly saturated market. Having a workforce with suitable skills already in place will help businesses to deliver increasingly ambitious projects and close the skills gap.
According to the terms of the levy, all apprenticeships require 12 months’ worth of training and include an end-point assessment. Employers and training providers are also required to allocate 20% of an apprentice’s working hours for “off-the-job” training. This means that 20% of the employee’s time will be spent not working directly on their daily role, though not necessarily away from the office.
The thought of employees “giving away” some of their precious time may put several employers off the idea of off-the-job apprenticeships. But it’s worth remembering that the levy is a mandatory tax. It has to be paid, so as with every other business function, you should look to achieve maximum ROI.
Not using the Levy for your the benefit of your business can mean missing out on a unique opportunity to improve the skills base of your workforce. After all, long-term gains are better than short-term ones.
The benefits of upskilling with apprenticeships
If you’ve already accessed some of the funds to train new recruits but have a substantial kitty left over, you should look to use the remaining funds to your advantage.
Apprenticeships combine vital theoretical knowledge with practical on-the-job training, and, if used properly, can be a huge boon to any business.
Here’s a summary of the ways that apprenticeships can help you create a large pool of future-proofed talent
1) Apprenticeships close the skills gap and create a pipeline across your organisation
Giving employees the opportunity to upskill provides them with a clear path of progression and promotion within your business, helping to close the skills gap in the process.
You can adapt the training that an apprentice receives to the needs of your organisation, allowing you to develop someone with a bespoke set of skills that are transferable across a range of tasks and departments.
2) Apprenticeships help you cut hiring costs
Recruiting new staff is costly and can be fraught with risks. And with a smaller pool of quality external candidates to call upon, upskilling existing members of staff ensures you can call upon high-calibre personnel without resorting to panic hires.
3) Apprenticeships improve retention and commitment
Providing staff with the necessary knowledge and skills for professional growth through apprenticeships is one way to buck this trend. By supplying the keys for employees to unlock their untapped potential, you’ll help raise staff morale.
4) Apprenticeships improve productivity
With a more motivated, highly-skilled workforce, it’s only natural that productivity increases. The facts don’t lie: the 2017 Apprenticeship Evaluation by the Department of Education showed that 78% of employers feel apprenticeships had improved productivity within their organisation.
5) Apprenticeships future-proof your business
By investing in apprenticeships, you’ll be directly investing in the future of your business. As we’ve seen, reducing staff turnover, boosting morale and improving return on investment are all surefire ways to avoid the potential pitfalls of a rapidly-evolving business landscape. But perhaps more importantly, having the skills to keep up with technological advances will help you stay ahead of the pack.
6) Apprenticeships boost your business’ reputation
Reputation is everything for a brand — whether you’re in a B2C or B2B environment. Showing that you are actively helping your people develop can help raise your profile and make your business a sought-after destination for high-quality job seekers.
For more on the ever-changing world of careers, stay tuned to the Tate blog.