Digital skills: Let’s unleash Britain’s potential

Can the Apprenticeship Levy unleash Britain’s digital skills potential? Alex Arundale thinks so. 

Learning and development within organisations will get a boost from the 1 April, with the introduction of the new apprenticeship levy. Essentially, from this date, the way the government funds apprenticeships is changing through the introduction of a monthly levy.

This is being introduced to help fund and encourage employers to take on high quality apprenticeships which the Government sees as crucial for raising UK productivity and staying globally competitive. 

Employers with a wage bill of over £3m will pay 0.5% (of their total wage bill) into the apprenticeship levy. The Government will collect this payment through the HMRC and the PAYE process. All employers will receive a £15,000 levy allowance, which will be deducted from their total payment. 

This as an exciting opportunity for forward thinking organisations. The apprenticeship levy puts employers in the driving seat to select the appropriate services required. There are two types of training – either apprenticeship frameworks or apprenticeship Trailblazer standards – to choose from, and both will be fundable through the levy.

Employers can select the training provider and the assessment organisation, and agree the cost of the training and assessment, which is ideally within the funding band limit set by the Government to avoid extra costs.

But this level of flexibility and independence in how employers choose the type of apprenticeship brings an incredible chance to address significant areas where Britain is in danger of falling behind, and ensure this levy doesn’t become a missed opportunity for the learning and development plans for companies. I believe that digital skills should be a focus for this training. 

…the lack of up-to-date digital skills represents a significant risk – certainly in whether the government’s own digital strategy is a success, especially in fostering technology innovation and growth for businesses…

Why digital? According to Paul Bason, director of digital innovation at Manchester Metropolitan University, despite the fact that the digital sector in the UK is growing at a faster rate than in any other G20 economy, there are still significant regions that have a dearth of the right skills. 

Given we live in the digital era, where digital is threatening to disrupt every industry and change has become the norm, the lack of up-to-date digital skills represents a significant risk – certainly in whether the government’s own digital strategy is a success, especially in fostering technology innovation and growth for businesses across the country.

Forward thinking organisations are looking to embrace change with digital transformation programmes that put customers at the heart of their strategy, improving customer services, product delivery, and allowing businesses to keep ahead of their competition by becoming more flexible and agile.

But we hear repeatedly that the dearth of new digital skills keeping pace with changing technology trends is throttling digital transformation success and threatening to hold back business prosperity. Using the apprenticeship levy to focus on this will deliver digital career opportunities around regional hubs.

Building a more digitally skilled workforce is the secret to ongoing success not only for companies but for the government, which has ambitions around its industrial strategy to drive sustainable growth across the UK.

Attracting people from different backgrounds into digital requires a creative approach. This is why another innovative area of the new apprenticeship fund levy is interesting – eradicating age discrimination. There has been a change in criteria about how apprentices have been defined, to agree who qualifies for the money. 

Apprentices are no longer funded by age band and any person can complete an apprenticeship as long as this is new and justifiable training and adds complimentary qualifications for their job role. Apprentices don’t have to be new entrants.

They can be existing employees who undertake apprenticeship training for CPD purposes or to progress within the organisation. New job role-specific qualifications allow businesses to undertake a flexible blend of traditional and professional qualifications specific to the job role they need.

So an added bonus for organisations is to see how the apprenticeship levy delivers a boost internally too from a learning and development perspective. Employers have the opportunity to ignite the passion for existing employees to move into new apprenticeship roles.

For example, if an organisation decides to focus on the technical training to develop digitally focused positions, employees can move from non-technical roles and make the progressive career move into a technology-focused position as an apprentice. 

At a practical level, organisations will be able to access funds to pay for apprenticeship training using the digital apprenticeship service. This will allow them to select the appropriate training, training provider and pay for this training.

The government will top up the amount spent on a monthly basis by 10%. Once a suitable payment schedule with their training provider has been agreed, funds will be sent to their account by the government on a monthly basis. 

However, organisations must be aware that these funds will expire 24 months after they reach their account, so they must make the most of this funding now.

It can play a significant role in boosting an organisation’s learning and development plans and, if focused on unleashing the digital skills potential of Britain, help to ensure businesses are ready to survive, grow and prosper in this digital era. 


About the author

Alex Arundale is group HR director at Advanced


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