Time investment is the key to the success of apprenticeship schemes, say business leaders

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Supporting team members to attend and record all learning while on apprenticeship course is imperative to success, say business leaders. But they also called for more to be done to challenge the misconceptions around apprenticeships.

At TheBusinessDesk.com’s roundtable event attended by senior HR directors and leaders from across Yorkshire businesses, sponsored by Manchester Alliance Business School, the group discussed the opportunities and challenges brought about by the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017.

Since then, business with a pay bill of more than £3m annually have paid the levy and SMEs have been given the opportunity to pay 10% of the cost of the course for a staff member to complete an apprenticeship course.

Marisa Waddington, HR Director at Zenith, said: “It’s about challenging the perception that an apprentice is not capable. Our apprentices are our

Marisa Waddington

school leavers. They range from GCSE or A Level. And what we did was we brought in a couple of apprentices and put them on secondment. They spent three months on each team within operations. What happened was one of the teams then had a vacancy. And they said, could we have this guy here? We said, of course – that’s an apprentice. Had they not done that, I don’t think they would have wanted apprentice.”

Sarah Armitage, Recruitment Specialist, WSP, said the firm had permanent contracts that sat behind the apprenticeship programmes. She added: “So we’re invested right from the beginning.

“You really do have to do a huge awareness piece externally and internally about the support that’s needed, but also the support that you [as a business] can offer. I think we’re all benefiting from the campaign that the government’s running at the moment in terms of the awareness of apprentices. But then on the flip side of that, unfortunately, that doesn’t cover people who are up-skilling in the business so then it’s still perpetrating the idea of the apprentice is a 16-year-old school leaver.

“We’ve got a mentor programme, so we keep our eye on making sure that the manager isn’t forgetting that actually, these people do need more care, more attention. And that, yes, they will be going one day a week to do some CPD and additional training. But we’ve also done a lot of internal PR about the apprentice programme. It’s got huge calibre; we build it up and we celebrate it and we celebrate every time somebody does something in the programme. So it’s seen as the proud to be apprentices. But all that is as having the nous to do it like this.”

Businesses signing up to the levy programme course need to allow their employees 20% of time away from the business to complete their course and must also document everything that has been undertaken.

Waddington, HR Director at Zenith, said:  “That 20% has, I think, probably put people off. For one day a week they are wondering what they’re doing. You have to build it into part of the way that they operate. We do it like CPD, and just have a program where they attend certain things.”

She said that for a business the size of Zenith, that was manageable, but for smaller businesses it was far more challenging.

Matthew Lewis, Partner and Head of Employment Practice, Squire Patton Boggs said: “Business has to be a lot smarter about how they accommodate that 20%, how they absorb that within the workplace – whether that is  attending meetings they wouldn’t normally attend or doing projects they wouldn’t really do as part of the up-skilling piece.”

Dr David Lowe

Dr David Lowe, Programme Director and Senior Lecturer in Commercial Management, Alliance Manchester Business School, said: “With apprenticeships, that there’s a real opportunity here. One thing we’ve done is to look at the level seven leadership course and designed a program specifically for it.

“So we’ve got eight modules, six of them cover the standard – that allows us flexibility. There are two additional modules that we can work with organisations on their key problems, for example, so it is possible to customise for certain sectors. Our first cohort was a group from the health sector. We’ve been able to include a couple of modules that are specific for the health sector.”

Recording all documents for the qualification is often a concern. Frank Clayton, Group Head of Learning, NG Bailey, said the solution was thinking ahead: “I think I think part of it is having that as part of the

Mark Atkins

plan with when you start. If you know that you’re going to have challenges, then before you get into it – realise it’s a problem and put in place a process.”

“But there are a number of things that are in scope –  that people don’t think are in scope – and then forget to record.”

Mark Atkins, Director of Business Support at Sewtec, said it was important to train the mentors well in order to overcome this issue.

Clayton said NG Bailey operated a work experience week for people interested in applying for its apprenticeship programme. He said: “We let them through the first two decision gates so we almost incentivise them because we’ve already had them in the environment and know that they they’re interested.”