The Apprenticeship Levy six months on: Learnings to share with L&D

Six months on since the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced, Alison Wheatly shares her learnings with L&D professionals, who are yet to embrace the opportunities the levy could afford their organisations.

Apprenticeships involve significant commitment, so it’s understandable that many L&D teams are approaching them with caution. Boards of organisations are now beginning to ask questions about when they are going to start seeing some of their levy fund being drawn down to pay for apprenticeship training.

So, if you’re an L&D professional and are on the cusp of taking the plunge, I wanted to share with you some learnings to help you harness the opportunities of the Apprenticeship Levy.

Start from organisational skills need

Identify key skills gaps for the future; it may sound obvious, but it’s easier to get sponsorship from senior business leaders if they can see apprenticeships as a solution to their problems. Then it’s simply a case if identifying an apprenticeship standard to address that skills gap.

Influence the perception of ‘apprentice’ across the organisation

Say the word ‘apprentice’ and what image do you conjure in your head? Normally, the term is associated with school leavers learning a trade or entry-level office role; the reality is, an apprentice is something very different today.

Choose providers who will support you to play your part whilst keeping the bulk of the administration and governance away from you and the colleagues on apprenticeship programmes.

As an L&D professional you know it’s different now, but the managers and colleagues in your business might not. I’ve found that the following helped:

  • Positioning the apprenticeship as a ‘development programme funded by the levy’.
  • Converting existing development programmes into apprenticeships, making them more robust, to show them as an enhancement on what went before.
  • Inviting colleagues in the talent pool to attend. It shows a firm commitment to their development and future.
  • Inviting senior stakeholders to sponsor a programme and involve them at key stages.

Choose your provider carefully

Once you’ve paid your levy each month, it becomes public money, which is why there is so much governance and administration around it. Meeting the funding (ESFA) and quality (Ofsted) requirements is fundamentally the provider’s responsibility, although you do have a part to play in this.

Choose providers who will support you to play your part whilst keeping the bulk of the administration and governance away from you and the colleagues on apprenticeship programmes. This enables you to focus on what you do best and after all, you are the customer.

Also, be sure to engage with providers who keep the development at the heart of the programme and fit the governance and admin around it – not the other way around. It should feel like a development programme where learning is continuous, not a series of classes and checks.

Remember, it’s a long game

Many people find the commitments of length (minimum one year, often more) and 20% off-the-job learning off-putting. They are genuine challenges to overcome. The following could help to overcome these challenges:

  • Provide early knowledge and skill input. This provides opportunities for early application…and early benefits.
  • A longer programme means time to translate skills and knowledge into action, enabling you to see and measure an impact on the colleague’s performance, and in the case of management apprenticeships, team performance and business performance.
  • Design programmes around business need, building flexibility into the learning programme so skills are developed in a timely manner, and operational peaks can be accommodated.
  • Involve the business in designing the apprenticeship programmes, for example:
    • When do they need specific skills to be available?
    • How and when do they want people to access learning?
    • What opportunities can they provide for people to ‘step up’ throughout the programme, via exposure to different tasks, responsibility, team projects and so on?

Focus on benefits and results

Lastly, while we’re only six months in to the implementation of the Apprenticeship Levy and it may be too soon to start waxing lyrical about all of its wonderful achievements, it’s not too early to say that through apprenticeships, L&D managers have a real opportunity to showcase tangible ROI to their boards.

As a learning and development professional, I understand the pressure you face to prove your worth and that the money, time and effort spent each year is worth the investment. 

In just a matter of months, through the long-term and intensive approach afforded by apprenticeships, changes in behaviours, attitudes and practices in the workplace are starting to have a direct and certainly positive impact on the organisations’ performance and bottom line. 


About the author

Alison Wheatly is operations director at Aspire Development


Read more about the Apprenticeship Levy here


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