With new statistics showing a lack of faith in the UK government’s apprenticeship target, the OU presses for joined up working to enable the scheme to succeed in this National Apprenticeship Week.
A survey by the Chartered Management Institute found that nearly half of managers surveyed believed the UK government is unlikely to reach its target of creating three million apprenticeships by 2020.
The UK government is pushing the new-look apprenticeships as an alternative to university, helping achieve a solution to boost the economy by training people in the skills that employers need. But after the apprenticeship levy was introduced in 2017, starting rates slowed, with only 1.2 million new apprenticeships beginning between May 2015 and October 2017.
But the numbers of higher and degree apprenticeships - introduced in England in 2015 to develop higher skills across the UK workforce - have increased each year since they began.
Some business leaders have concerns about the plans and are renewing calls for an overhaul of the apprenticeship levy. They say there are a catalogue of issues, including low pay and red tape. And the CMI survey showed that 34% of employers from large organisations have delayed apprenticeship starts as they get to grips with the system.
Give it time
The OU’s David Willett, Corporate Director, encourages businesses to persevere, and to make the most of the levy and the new opportunity it brings to develop the skills of their workforce. He says:
It’s true that the apprenticeship levy isn’t working for everyone yet, but every new process has teething problems and needs time to develop and adapt.
“The fact is, the UK skills deficit is an issue that needs to be invested in. We shouldn’t be discouraged because of a few hurdles. The skills shortage is costing the economy £2.2 billion a year – surely a little time and energy is worth it?”
Turning a challenge into an opportunity
There’s no doubt that the apprenticeship levy has presented organisations with challenges. Some companies see the levy as ‘a payroll tax’, and are unsure how to make it work for them, while others see potential, but need to be reassured of quality and relevance of training from external providers.
Accessing the funding also differs across the UK – although all UK employers with a pay bill over £3 million have to pay in to the levy, only those in England can directly access the levy funding for training, whilst the situation differs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Open to everyone
For most employers, a significant culture shift is needed, says David Willett:“Our 2017 research report authored by Towards Maturity, The Work-Based Learning Dividend found there’s often an outdated perception of apprentices in the workplace, with colleagues often not understanding what apprentices are, or how they can help provide high-level skills that many organisations desperately need.”
Apprenticeships can be used to train new recruits, or upskill or re-train current staff to meet organisational needs, as well as improve staff engagement and retention. Training is open to everyone: old and young, experienced and inexperienced. In fact, there are even master’s level apprenticeship programmes available, like the OU’s Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship, which includes the OU MBA (Leadership Practice).
Work-based learning can also help mitigate future talent risks for employers. With Brexit looming, organisations would be wise to invest in their current employees. David Willett says:
Training and development should become a top priority. A good training and development programme will breed loyalty, increase motivation and boost productivity.
“It’s time to work together”
The apprenticeship levy and introduction of higher-level apprenticeships provides a new opportunity for organisations to develop the skills of their workforce.
David Willett says: “It’s time for employers, training providers and governments to work together to make the most of work-based learning and apprenticeships, and the levy is a positive step forward towards maximising benefits for the economy as a whole.
Apprenticeships can make organisations more successful and more agile in an increasingly competitive environment. So it’s important that we don’t forget about the huge benefits as we work towards making apprenticeships work for everyone.
Read more about our work on apprenticeships.