EXCLUSIVE: Apprenticeship Guru 'apprenticeships are suitable for a hell of a lot'

EXCLUSIVE: Apprenticeship Guru 'apprenticeships are suitable for a hell of a lot'

The 6th April date for the new apprenticeship levy is fast approaching. After this date, all employers operating in the UK, with an annual pay bill over £3 million, will have to invest in apprenticeships.

The UK Government will enforce employers, that meet these requirements to contribute 0.5% to the levy – however, a levy allowance of £15,000 will be subtracted from the final amount.

Speaking exclusively to HR Grapevine, David Willett, Head of Propositions at The Open University explains that not everyone is prepared for the levy – even though he believes that the potential benefits can be massive.

He laughs when I ask if businesses are ready right now for the incoming changes: “Are they ready? Probably not, no one is ever quite ready. Increasingly, and after Christmas especially, we’ve seen a step change in the readiness of employers.”

Yet, Willett believes that the devolved scheme – which means apprenticeships will be rolled out differently dependent on which UK nation they are in – provides a unique opportunity for employers and employees alike.

“For the first time ever we’ve cracked the door wide open because we’ve now got employers in organisations going: ‘We have to now think about how we recoup our levy investment whilst much smaller organisations are definitely looking at this as an investment, as many can invest directly into skills and create improved work placements, performance, productivity and ultimately profitability.”

For organisations that usually look to graduates when recruiting for entry-level positions, it's about ‘cracking the door open’ for non-graduate candidates that Willet believes will be a boon for businesses – rather than a weight to bear.

He says: “We also know that apprenticeships make absolute business sense. They help with retention as we see greater levels of in-programme retention. Stats show that 1 in 4 graduates leave their first job within the first two years. Anecdotally, employers tell me its more like 2 in 4 leave their first job within two years.”

Willett explains that apprenticeship retention rates in small businesses can often hit the 90% mark. Couple retention levels with lower starting salaries paid to apprentices, the investment from the levy begins to make sense.

Willett elaborates: “There’s a sense of loyalty for somebody that has had a real opportunity at a company, in an entry level role, with professional qualifications attached.”

It’s a common misconception that apprenticeships are only for the young: companies can use their levy funds on retraining members of the current workforce, which is crucial in the face of fast-pace digitisation.

“An apprenticeship route can also be a vehicle that allows people to retrain and it goes towards recognising your levy contribution. It is about thinking not just about new entry level talent and young people but it can and will also be, about the existing workforce as well,” said Willetts.

However, Willett warns firms against changing their Learning & Development strategies to meet the Levy’s new requirement.

“People that make dramatic changes, just because there’s a levy won’t be successful. It’s about really understanding what the skills requirements in your business are and what you need. What are the types of jobs you need that you need people to be doing, not only now, but in the future?”

“Apprenticeships are not suitable and not appropriate for every role but they’re suitable for a hell of a lot,” he concludes.

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