London Borough of Croydon lauded as Apprenticeship Employer of the Year

Alex Jones from The One Show with members of the London Borough of Croydon team, which won the Apprenticeship Employer of the Year Award at the Personnel Today Awards 2018
Members of the Croydon Council team that won Apprenticeship Employer of the Year Award at the Personnel Today Awards 2018, with Alex Jones from The One Show with Personnel Today editor Rob Moss.

Croydon Council headed up the shortlisted companies in the 2018 Personnel Today Awards’ Apprenticeship Employer of the Year category with its successful efforts to target a diverse array of young people. The judges also recognised that each of the runners-up had implemented schemes that met business needs while attracting a variety of talented younger people.


Laura Guttfield, ITN,
Dr Emma Parry, Cranfield School of Management,
Laura-Jane Rawlings, Youth Employment UK


London Borough of Croydon

The apprenticeship levy provided Croydon Council with the opportunity to reassess what it offers residents and to ensure it led by example in offering opportunities to young people. Many residents face multiple barriers getting into employment, in particular those with disabilities, from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and from BAME groups. Coupled with this, Croydon has a talented but ageing workforce, so needed to improve its talent pipeline.

The council used social media to advertise vacancies and simplify the application process so it did not intimidate people with little experience of formal recruitment practices. Group assessment days were introduced where candidates who felt threatened by formal interview situations could thrive. Successful apprentices enjoy a robust programme that ensures they don’t only gain a job but also opportunities to grow into rounded individuals, through workshops on themes such as goal-setting or overcoming challenges. Apprenticeship ambassadors speak to students and local residents about their journey.

In the last cohort of apprentices, 85% were from BAME backgrounds, the average age was 20, nearly 10% were previously in care, and 20% had additional learning needs or a physical disability. A tenth were lone parents. There is a 96% retention rate, demonstrating the level of support provided to apprentices and “creating the next generation of managers, heads of service, directors and chief executives”.



Apprenticeship programmes enable Barclays to bring in future leaders from all cultures, backgrounds, abilities and gender identities. There is a shortage of minority representation in financial services and the bank wanted its employees to be a more accurate reflection of its customers and communities.

The bank offers a joined-up suite of apprenticeship programmes from A-level standard to degree apprenticeships and even a masters-level degree. These include Able to Enable internships (for those with disabilities/mental health issues); traineeships and foundation apprenticeships (for those with little or no experience); technology apprenticeships; and “bolder” apprenticeships (over the age of 24 and no upper age limit). Candidates can “open up” to Barclays on the application platform about any concerns so they can get the support they need.

Barclays estimates it has saved £2m in recruitment costs and avoided expensive contractor fees; its reputation for offering diverse apprenticeships has helped it win public sector contracts; and the scheme has helped build future leaders. Seventy-one percent of higher apprentices have taken on leadership roles in the bank. All of those on the trainee programme are from NEET (not in education, employment or training) backgrounds, 20% of apprentices are from BME backgrounds and over-25s account for a quarter of those on the schemes.

Cygnet Healthcare

Cygnet Healthcare is a growing provider of mental health services, offering in-patient, residential and community support as well as nursing homes. It faces the same challenges as the NHS in recruiting and retaining nurses. It wanted to redress this balance and find a cost-effective way to bring in talented staff and improve care.

Support workers were often put off training to become nurses by the financial pressures that come with a full-time university course. So Cygnet decided to offer them the opportunity to train to become a registered nurse via an apprenticeship while maintaining their full-time employment. It forged links with the University of Wolverhampton to create a trainee nursing associate apprenticeship, recruiting a dedicated apprenticeship manager to monitor and develop these pathways. The university delivers training on a day release model at Cygnet sites rather than on campus.

There is a current cohort of 21 apprentices plus 29 mentors, supported by apprenticeship levy funding. Cygnet has developed nursing associate roles within the business to ensure there are roles for the apprentices to move in to. After two years, apprentices can opt to complete a nursing degree. If all the current cohort go on to become nurses, the company will have saved £84,000 in recruitment costs, while savings on induction training should amount to a further £52,920. The programme will also reduce spending on agency nurses, and money can be re-invested in patient care.

Direct Line Group

Historically, Direct Line Group’s apprenticeship programmes were delivered by multiple providers and managed locally without any overarching programme. The introduction of the apprenticeship levy prompted a refresh in the insurer’s strategy.

DLG partnered with managed service provider Babington Group to: deliver a broad curriculum of apprenticeships, an online screening process for candidates; provide data on apprenticeship activity; and to create a consistent learning journey for apprentices in the business. Recruitment, onboarding, induction, mentoring and line manager support have all been completely reformed. For example, candidates that pass the screening process attend an assessment centre where they complete a values-based interview to ensure they are a good cultural fit.

Those who become DLG apprentices benefit from a mentor and have a strong support network through Yammer and Facebook. Managers are given clear guidance on how to support and develop their apprentices. There are currently 195 apprentices studying 16 different qualification frameworks. Attrition is low, at 21%, helping the company to achieve a return on investment and savings on recruitment, particularly in areas such as contact centres where turnover is traditionally high. DLG estimates that, compared with other new starters, apprentices are performing on average 2.9% higher.


Great Western Railway (GWR) is investing £7.5bn in what it feels will be a “golden era of rail”, and apprenticeships are at the heart of its future recruitment plans. However, central to its success is the forging of new relationships with educational suppliers and the consolidation of its apprenticeship offer while maintaining the highest standards of delivery.

GWR has partnered with Exeter College to bring together all of its educational programmes into one centre of excellence. Apprentices can meet, share best practice and integrate as one team, regardless of programme. In the last year, the operator has recruited 22 apprentices across three schemes, with a further 18 planned. They can obtain apprenticeships in operations (customer service/railway operations); engineering and management. GWR has also partnered with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, which helps apprentices develop skills and attitudes they need to become more rounded, confident adults.

Of the 14 apprentices that completed the operations apprenticeship this year, 100% completed it and have moved into roles in GWR. Engineering saw a 90% completion rate and 95% retention rate. The company has an eye on future recruitment and diversity: apprentices are involved in school outreach programmes and there are opportunities for disadvantaged young people through the Aspire Apprentices programme.


By 2020 there will be a shortfall of one million engineers across the UK, and at technology company L3 TRL, some specialist engineering roles remain open and vacant for almost two years.

The company wanted to create an early careers programme that would encourage school leavers and graduates to join it and fast-track them through their careers into these hard-to-fill roles. The Cerebrum framework brings together groups of people on L3 TRL’s early careers pathways, from apprentices to industrial placements and graduates. Since it was launched in 2016, members of the group meet with each other to network and attend sessions with the CEO to discuss their experiences and gain insights. Individuals from the group have nominated roles such as “social rep” so they are fully engaged in its success.

Improvements are made as the framework embeds itself in the business, for example hosting a welcome week to bring new starters up to speed with the company. Three to five of the first cohort have been identified as ready for promotion in the next year – something that historically might have taken as long as five years. Results from the programme have been impressive: those on industrial placements have a 50% return rate after they graduate, while there is a 58% retention rate for apprentices.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT)

After a troubling period where UHMBT had been under investigation, it wanted to use apprenticeship reforms as an opportunity to bring in fresh talent and become an employer of choice. As with many trusts, recruitment continues to be challenging, particularly in graduate professions such as nursing, biomedical scientists and operating department practitioners. There was much reliance on agency workers and training budgets had been slashed, so the situation required a new approach.

The Trust worked closely with its executive team to gain senior-level buy-in for a range of apprenticeships that would work from entry-level roles to masters degree. A levy working party was created to ensure that funding was distributed to areas most in need. One innovative approach was to recruit a cohort of clinical healthcare support apprentices with the offer of potential progression opportunities and bridging modules for those wanting to move into nursing. It launched a nursing degree apprenticeship in February this year, which is only open to existing staff.

More recently, UHMBT has launched its first leadership and management academy, which provides apprenticeship opportunities to staff who have line management responsibility to gain Level 3, 5 or 7 qualifications. UHMBT now feels it offers “career pathways rather than just jobs” and there is a culture of continuous learning of development, helping it to shape its future workforce.

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