Investing in apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are crucial to business growth and here Nichola Hay demonstrates how to use them to ease your skills’ shortages

According to the ONS the total number of job vacancies in the UK currently sits at an historically high 1.2 million, as the so-called war on talent wages on. As a result, 76% of UK businesses are struggling to secure essential talent. Many businesses understand the knock-on impact that a lack of skills and talent can have on their business growth, but there’s still uncertainty about how to overcome these challenges – that’s where apprenticeships and the Apprenticeship Levy really come in to play. 

The Apprenticeship Levy was launched five years ago and in that time, we’ve seen some businesses adopt it and utilise it creatively to unlock new skills and talent, but we’ve also seen many more struggle to get to grips with the many different ways they can use it to support business growth. 

Now, when talent is harder to come by than ever before, business leaders and learning and development (L&D) leads need to be reassessing their apprenticeship provision with fresh eyes to understand where they can use it innovatively to support business growth, and there are a few key areas to think about. 

Apprenticeships can also be used to upskill staff who may be at risk of redundancy to give them skills which can be used in other areas of the business

Succession planning 

Meaningful growth requires meaningful long-term business planning, and that must include staff succession planning. Many businesses don’t understand how apprenticeships can be used to support this. Those who have taken the time to interrogate the use of apprenticeships understand that they can offer on-the-job development to professionals at all levels, and should be seen as an essential tool for both workforce planning and people development. 

Prioritising diversity 

Many employers increasingly recognise that business growth comes from diversification of thought, and that in turn stems from having people from a range of backgrounds within the business. And although many businesses have the best of intentions when it comes to diversifying the workforce, some are limited by current recruitment strategies. A recent whitepaper from Robert Walters found many employers continue to use the same channels for recruitment that they have always relied on, despite that fact they continue to deliver similar candidates. 

Offering an apprenticeship programme can open up new channels to a more diverse talent pool. Whether it’s parents looking to re-enter the workforce or the long-term economically inactive, apprenticeships can create an opportunity for those candidates who may have felt the barriers to apply through the ‘traditional’ channels were too great.  

Bridging the skills gap
Businesses planning for growth are not only aware of the current skills gaps within the workforce – they also have one eye on longer term skills gaps which could develop down the line. One more established use for apprenticeships is certainly to bridge existing skills gaps. But businesses and heads of L&D who are looking ahead and planning for long-term business growth, need to think about possible changes to team structures in the future. They should begin with identifying any possible skills gaps, caused by team changes or redundancies, and work to ensure knowledge and skills are spread across the team. Apprenticeships can also be used to upskill staff who may be at risk of redundancy to give them skills which can be used in other areas of the business. 

Creating a highly skilled workforce 

Business growth is dependent on being ahead of the curve, and that relies on creating a highly skilled workforce, equipped with the skills to address future challenges. Apprenticeships can be flexible to whatever ‘highly-skilled’ means within individual organisations. One company may choose to focus on attracting early talent – those with the knowledge to identify fresh new ideas and business opportunities. 

In either case, investing in developing the skills of your staff will not only help improve business resilience, by helping to create a diverse, multi-skilled workforce, but it will equally support with staff retention. By providing staff with the opportunity to upskill, retrain for promotion or to transfer to other areas of the business, you demonstrate a clear commitment to their personal and career development. 

Designing the right apprenticeship programme for your business 

When setting out to incorporate apprenticeship programmes in your business it’s critical that business and L&D leads gather data on the current workforce. This will help identify where support is most needed, as well as supporting ongoing benchmarking. 

Additionally, it is critical to take note of any areas of the business where external recruitment has stalled, and critical skill gaps are beginning to open up. For SMEs in particular – many of whom may not have the financial capacity for an entire L&D department – finding the right training provider and designing the most effective apprenticeship programmes will be essential to compete in the war for talent and ultimately drive business growth.  

Final thoughts

An apprenticeship may not be the answer to all your business needs, but by choosing a training provider that can provide a bespoke programme to match your business goals, apprenticeships can provide an excellent solution and support growth. 

Nichola Hay is director of apprenticeship strategy and policy at BPP



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