Dr Susan Laing is feeling positive about the apprenticeship levy.
The current furore about the use of the apprenticeship levy for higher level training and development for managers and executives, provides some measure of just how poorly people understand the breadth and depth of the skills challenge we face in the UK.
It is, people argue, simply wrong for employers who pay the apprenticeship levy to use the funding to put their people through MBAs and management training. What we need are more technicians, engineers and, in particular, younger people in general going through vocational training routes.
On the second of these points, I do not disagree.
As Dean of a business school situated in Tees Valley, a region whose economic health depends on people acquiring the skills and knowledge to do business in a tech-driven world, we need people who can work in high tech manufacturing and the digital industries of tomorrow.
Thriving in the face of this fast-paced and disruptive change requires the ability to lead, manage and colloborate in new ways.
But the challenges we face in our regional economy – which mirror those faced by the UK as a whole – aren’t just limited to acquisition of technical skills or the availability of vocational training for younger people.
One of the most important tasks businesses in the Tees Valley have had to learn through economic shocks which have accompanied deep and dramatic changes in the nature of industry is the ability to stay relevant, responsive and able to adapt to change, at speed.
Thriving in the face of this fast-paced and disruptive change requires the ability to lead, manage and colloborate in new ways. Few can genuinely claim to be born natural leaders nor more than then they are good managers and it is clear that management and leadership skills must be learnt as we progress through our careers.
So if one of the consequences of the levy is for employers to invest in this training, then I believe that is positive.
Another reason to support the use of the levy for management training is because in the exec or part-time modes it is likely to give people who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to get this sort of development.
To a great extent MBAs remain the domain of those who are lucky enough to have employers generous enough to subsidise them or who have found their own way of paying for and the balancing their studies outside of work.
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Talking to employers and potential MBA delegates, it is clear the levy has changed that. Going forward a great number of individuals and their organisations will reap the benefits from having their development linked to a higher degree qualification.
The arrival of the levy has also made business schools like ours think even more deeply about the kind of development we provide to employers which will make a meaningful difference to their organisations.
The signs from business are this is an approach that works for them. While some employer surveys suggest they are confused about the levy and don’t know how to use the funding, there is strong interest in our region if we can guide employers through the paperwork maze.
As we head out into the currently unchartered waters of a post-Brexit trading environment, sustained investment in this type of development could be a factor which strengthens our ability to trade in the world.
That’s in addition to solving the sticky issue of poor productivity which is dogging our economy and overturning our generally poor record as a country for training investment. For that reason we should be embracing the investment we are making in managers as leaders as much as in ‘traditional’ apprenticeships.
We should also be celebrating the fact, however imperfect, we appear to have found some way of delivering the training the UK workforce needs – whatever their age or level of education.
About the author
Dr Susan Laing is the Dean of Teesside University Business School.