Apprenticeship levy: Why degree apprenticeships should be on your list


Are you firming up plans for spending your apprenticeship funding once the levy comes in next month? One avenue worth exploring is degree apprenticeships, and training providers can help your organisation test the waters. David Willett, head of propositions at the Open University, explains.

While you may be aware that degree apprenticeship programmes makes sense and think your organisation would benefit, you may be nervous to commit – especially if this means taking on larger numbers of apprentices.

Yet if you continue to hold off, you could keep missing out on this valuable pool of talent and the positive impact they can bring.

The fact is, if you work for a large employer with a wage bill of more than £3 million per annum, your organisation will have to pay upcoming apprenticeship levy, whether or not you have an apprenticeship programme in place.

So what should you do? One option is to run a pilot degree apprenticeship programme, as this will enable you to test, and subsequently demonstrate, the business impacts and also measure the return on investment.

Here are some tips and advice to help your organisation set one up.

What skills does your organisation need?

Apprenticeships are all about helping you to put the required skills in place to drive your organisation’s objectives – whether that’s improving performance, productivity and/or quality of service.

They’re not just to meet the skills needs of today and tomorrow, but also to meet the requirements in years to come.

The first step is to understand exactly what skills your organisation needs, and where, to help it achieve its objectives.

Next, conduct a comprehensive skills audit to identify exactly the skills your current employees have, so you can examine where the gaps are against the organisational strategy.

New recruits or existing employees?

Do you want to recruit new employees for the pilot, or are there suitable people in the organisation already?

There will be less additional work if you go down the existing staff route, and providing some of your bright prospects with real development opportunities can work as a great engagement and retention tool, as well as bring new skills to people who already have a lot of experience in the organisation.

Either way, there should be a good level of interested applicants. We are seeing an increasing level of awareness about degree apprenticeships fuelled by prominent government adverts, and the prospect of securing a degree qualification without the costs and while incurring a salary has to be a huge attraction.

Whichever route you choose, training providers should be able to support you to run a small pilot programme with a recruitment service or to help you find the right people and bring them into your organisation. They might also be able to help you to develop some criteria to help you identify suitable existing employees.

Explore the available standards

There’s a Government website that lists, by occupational area, all the standards that have been approved and those that are in development.

Each standard details the learning outcomes and skills apprentices will acquire, which you can then compare against your organisation’s identified skills needs.

Support managers to coach, mentor and train the degree apprentices

A great apprenticeship programme needs solid input from line managers and mentors, providing your apprentices with appropriate, timely advice, guidance and support.

Particularly with younger apprentices, a good line manager or mentor can play a positive role: it’s not about being their parent or their guardian, it’s about managing them to get the best out of them in the workplace.

It’s also about understanding that they could be at the early stages of a career and have different needs and requirements than many other employees.

Ideally, you should put in place bespoke training that introduces line managers or mentors to their roles and responsibilities, and provides them with information about the programme the apprentice is studying.

A good apprenticeship training provider will be able to offer this training for your line managers and mentors, so make sure to ask the question.

Think ahead

Consider what will happen to the individuals at the end of their apprenticeships, regardless of whether they joined the apprenticeship programme as an existing employee or were recruited into the organisation specifically as an apprentice.

Having a plan in place will further motivate your apprentices and ensure a more successful and productive transition into their full-time roles.

Find the right provider for you

To help you find the right training provider for you, here are five questions to consider as part of the decision-making process:

  • Does the apprenticeships provider have a proven track record and experience of delivering apprenticeships and work-based learning?
  • Can they help with attraction, selection and recruitment, and identifying and selecting suitable existing staff?
  • Does their delivery methodology suit your organisation’s needs?
  • Can they access a wide range of standards to meet your skills requirements?
  • Where else can they add value?

Degree apprenticeships offer a great opportunity to improve business performance, productivity and profitability. A pilot scheme will showcase just what a rich source of potential future talent this could be, so explore opportunities with your training provider.

David Willett

About David Willett

David Willett is head of propositions at the Open University.
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