Apprenticeships are a mutually beneficial arrangement

With the advent of new apprenticeship standards and the introduction of the levy, UK plc has been dealt one of its trickiest, but potentially most rewarding, sets of cards.

The majority of the discussion between employers and training providers appears to be around finding the balance of utilising levy funds to recruit young apprentices seeking to enter the workforce, compared with utilising the funds to develop the skills, knowledge and behaviours of existing staff.

The value of apprenticeships

For young people, Apprenticeships have on occasion been described as the ‘Cinderella’ option for school leavers. Apprenticeship Organisation, The 5% Club, has presented research that suggests parents feel apprenticeships are given a much lower profile in society than university education, that they are often viewed as second rate and not as good as having a degree.

However, evidence has shown that apprentices develop meaningful and long-standing careers with the organisations they learn and work with. Training Provider Estio suggest that 80% of companies who invest in apprentices have reported a significant increase in employee retention, and within that retention apprentices are identifying career progression opportunities.

A mutually beneficial arrangement

An apprenticeship programme allows a young learner to join a company from the ground up, building their own pathway. Earn whilst you learn is a common tagline attached to apprenticeships, but for the apprentice the significance is much, much more. If a company gets it right, that learner develops as the company develops, these learners intrinsically understand and embody its ideologies or best practice, and effectively become their next stage of evolution. Apprenticeships, particularly with young people, have the opportunity to disrupt organisational thinking by encouraging diversity, fresh thinking and collaboration.

Conversely for those already in work and seeking skills development, there is a mutual benefit for the employee and the business in the employee completing an apprenticeship. The employee is identifying and gaining skills in areas they have capacity to grow, meaning that they usually are either more productive or effective in their role as a result of the apprenticeship learning. That is the dream for this type of skills development and learning, particularly one where much of the learning is completed on-the-job.

Delivering business value

Alternately (or in addition to being more productive or effective) the employee learner may report that they enjoy their role more or feel more able to apply for different roles internally or externally from the business, progressing in their chosen career.

A government commissioned paper on Employer Investment in Apprenticeships and Workplace Learning suggested that employers utilising their levy funds for training will recoup those costs within a couple of years of the completion of training. The return on investment in that respect is huge – in terms of people, employees and their development, but also the business and its continual growth.

Finding the balance between the two routes is where, I believe, organisations will find real harmony in their apprenticeship provision. By progressing existing employees with appropriate apprenticeship programmes, long term you are creating vacancies and opportunities for new apprentices to enter the organisation as part of the succession planning for those progressing staff.

To facilitate sustained apprenticeship development, the label of “apprentice” needs to lose all of its associated stigma. An apprentice is no longer a lad joining his dad to learn the plumbing or electrician trade. For me, by 2020 the word “apprentice” will be synonymous with “lifelong learner”.

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