The retirement village operator’s root and branch reform of its apprentice programme helped it to pick up this keenly contested award. We highlight its achievements and those of the runners-up.
While a more structured apprenticeship scheme had been in place since the introduction of the government levy in May 2017, it didn’t offer the freedom and diversity that reflected the needs of Audley, a retirement village operator, as a business.
Key issues faced by Audley included: a high turnover of assessors, resulting in poor learner engagement; journeys mapped around programme requirements, rather than the individual needs of the business/learner; a contract restricted to one provider, reducing the flexibility to offer many delivery styles to suit individual needs; a high drop-off in learners not completing courses, with just a 42% completion rate in 2017; and a high levy wastage (over 40% since levy introduction).
In 2019 Audley set out to completely reform the scheme, making a strategic decision to break away from a single provider and carve out a unique solution.
The business’s internal Audley Academy – underpinned by key values promoting quality, respect, diversity and inclusion – provides an extensive and ever-growing collection of learning opportunities, including online resources, workshops and on-the-job training.
With apprenticeships offered to new starters straight after their initial probation period, the Audley Academy acts as a
central supporting mentor, ensuring that learning is adapted to fit the individual’s pace and needs.
The last 12 months have taken such challenges to a new level. With on-the-job training being limited within Audley during the pandemic, projects and learning have been adapted to mix the practical with the virtual.
Despite more than £1bn in apprenticeship levy funding remaining unused by employers between May 2020 and February 2021, Audley managed to spend more and waste less than previous years. Just 6.6% of its overall spend was recorded as wastage in 2020, versus 35.6% in 2019, and 44.6% in 2018.
Employees are happy with the progress. In a recent survey, 95% of team members said they were proud to work for Audley with 82% citing “feeling supported” as their reason for feeling proud and 80% citing career development.
Amey Consulting in partnership with Sheffield Hallam University
Recognising a growing skills shortage – the talent pool of professional engineers in the rail industry has been diminishing over recent years – and a need for greater diversity in the industry, Amey Consulting collaborated with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) to develop the UK’s first Rail Degree Apprenticeship, providing an accessible route into the rail industry for the next generation of consulting engineers.
Amey offers a four-year degree apprenticeship programme delivered via academic study block modules coupled with on-the-job, real project experience in a professional consulting environment.
Successful completion of the apprenticeship leads to a BEng in Railway Engineering and IET accreditation.
The introduction of this pioneering degree provides an opportunity for entry into the profession for a wider range of people and those for whom the traditional degree route is not always practical, resulting in a more diverse workforce trained in the specific skills needed to develop and maintain railways into the future.
Following a successful recruitment campaign, 35 individuals from a wide range of backgrounds commenced their apprenticeship journey with Amey, embracing the combination of real-life experience delivering major projects in Amey’s design offices and the academic base that SHU provides.
Amey’s partnership with SHU means that it can ensure the Rail Degree Apprenticeship programme provides the
students with the skills and knowledge required to make an immediate impact in the business. The Apprenticeship Programme will result in the accelerated development of the senior engineers and technical leaders of the future and will ensure that the industry becomes more diverse as these individuals progress their careers.
Anglian Water’s Alliances
Anglian Water has six alliances made up of 17 large multi £bn/£m design and construction organisations that deliver its asset management programme. It has successfully established collaborative skills partnerships with colleges to create a bespoke apprenticeship programme for local people seeking to pursue a career in engineering and construction sectors.
Anglian Water’s alliances decided to work with colleges to transform the education and employment opportunities available to local people in Wisbech, Milton Keynes, Grimsby and Bury St Edmunds by establishing a bespoke training programme focused on the sector skills requirements of Anglian Water. The 17 Anglian Water alliance partners face significant challenges in maintaining the skills and capabilities required to deliver circa £500m a year investment programme. To complement the needs of the alliances partners the college is seeking to increase opportunities for its students in its local catchment of diverse and potentially capable students.
Successful applicants are enrolled on levy-funded apprenticeships in relevant vocational areas with seamless progression options to higher and degree apprenticeships where appropriate. At the end of the apprenticeship successful apprentices have the opportunity to pursue a career in relevant sectors across the Alliances with options to progress to higher-level study. This collaborative skills partnership is unique in the utilities sector with an innovative approach to developing local labour market skills which benefits individuals, communities and the Alliances partner employers.
There are currently 72 apprentices completing either a ground worker apprenticeship or an engineering and draughts-person apprenticeship.
To help the firm recruit, retain and develop the most customer-centric people in the industry DPD UK works with government, local schools, colleges and charities to offer five different types of apprenticeship:
- Intermediate – equivalent to five GCSE passes.
- Advanced – equal to two A Level passes.
- Higher – opportunity to gain Level 4 qualifications or above.
- Degree – students can achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree.
- Inclusive (DPD’s dedicated ‘Inspire’ programme) – for individuals who have a recognised learning difficulty and/or disability. Inspire is the main focus of this award entry.
Since 2018, DPD has invested £250,000 in its SEND (Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities) programme and has established a dedicated Supported Employment team to ensure every employee or apprentice has the help they require.
In the past 12 months this team has helped eight young people to embrace life after the age of 25 years old (when support and funding cease), supporting them in achieving paid work, to gain independence as young adults.
Individuals who join DPD through Inspire have the opportunity to follow a clear progression path: Work Experience, Supported Internships and Inclusive Apprenticeship before achieving a substantive post. The Apprenticeship process remains the same but with ‘reasonable adjustments’ made to suit an individual’s needs and abilities. From the start of their journey DPD works with individuals to understand their aspirations and personalities to determine where they will work best, before creating a role that takes their support needs into account.
In 2020 eight Inspire apprentices transitioned into paid employment. Examples include Ellie Morris (Administration Apprentice, International Operations) and Callam Bassett (IT Specialist Apprentice) who successfully completed their Inclusive Apprenticeships to achieve substantive posts.
Essex County Council
In January 2021 the Entry to Work (ETW) team was formed as part of Essex County Council’s (ECC) response to tackling the barriers to employment for their residents and the impact Covid-19 was having on youth unemployment within Essex. ECC already recruited apprentices into the organisation but Essex wanted to bring the recruitment of apprentices into one place, to promote the benefits of apprenticeship programmes to Essex’s hiring community.
ECC has had over 165 new apprentices join since 2017. Historically, talent attraction had been provided by an in-house training provider, along with advertising on the National Apprenticeship website (NAS). One of the ETW team objectives was to increase talent attraction methods, to ensure a more diverse pool had access to and were aware of the apprenticeships.
It has achieved this by investing in and implementing new processes that use the council’s new and accessible careers site (workingforressex.com), which allows applicants to search for apprenticeships, and now advertise on a range of other external job boards, including a specialist job board that has a direct focus on diversity and inclusion.
It has engaged with local schools to discuss upcoming apprenticeships and will attend future events in educational settings. It also continues to advertise on NAS and with the training provider responsible for delivering the apprenticeship standard.
The long-term goal is about providing the apprentices with the right learning and development opportunities to remain and progress with ECC. The ETW team works with managers to discuss succession planning; having a clear career pathway to move into once their apprenticeship has completed. These conversations are had from the very beginning when discussing hiring an apprentice and throughout the duration of the programme.
To date the ETW team have recruited 22 new apprentices into the organisation covering a range of programmes, from business administration, data analytics, customer service to recruitment consultants, and many more. The team are committed to bringing in 50 new apprentices into ECC in 2021.
Great Western Railway
As the pandemic hit transport, GWR decided to restructure the resources of its apprenticeship support team, focusing separate attention on full-time and on-the-job apprenticeships. The extra support needed was repurposed from the wider HR team. However, these colleagues had never worked with apprentices before and a huge upskilling programme was developed and undertaken, which, due to the tight timescales, ran in tandem with the apprentice recruitment process.
GWR has a dedicated team supporting over 200 apprentices throughout the business. The team attends every academic review and supports through virtual coffee lounges and regular interventions.
Each of GWR’s vocational apprentices have a separate (personal) mentor and workplace buddies share their experiences through operational learning. A typical customer service apprentice is supported by more than 250 GWR colleagues during their programme.
Apprentices are now fulfilling clear business needs as they join schemes in a variety of disciplines from chartered leadership to engineering excellence, customer service to accountancy and IT. All of these have been identified as priority areas of need by managers. GWR has an ageing workforce and does not reflect the diversity of its customers – so the schemes fulfil another business need by providing the opportunity to bring fresh and diverse talent to enrich the firm.
All apprentices have clear development goals. They attend four weekly Time with your Mentor discussions where development goals are reviewed. They are recorded and verified by the apprenticeship team through an online platform and academic reviews are attended by the skills officers from GWR’s partners (Ofsted outstanding) Exeter College, and the apprenticeship team. Other academic qualifications and DofE business gold progress are monitored and discussed individually with apprentices.
All eligible apprentices passed their respective qualifications, and all graduating apprentices secured a role in GWR and are progressing well. Two of GWR’s apprentices recently won Apprentice of the Year at Exeter College, and the scheme leader was recognised with a lifetime achievement award. Apprentices bring benefits to the business by being core to creating a fit-for- purpose rail industry and a talented pipeline, particularly for specialist and hard to fill roles. They contribute a huge academic and industry knowledge alongside a great understanding of GWR’s business.
The apprentices at MBDA work on projects at the defence engineering company and alongside the UK armed forces. MBDA’s programmes develop apprentices ensuring they have the required skills, knowledge and behaviours, which are not readily available within our experienced hire community, for future concepts and technologies. It is vital that it implements a succession plan continue to recruit and develop high-performing individuals to maintain its existing contracts and help gain new ones.
Despite the pandemic, MBDA onboarded 48 apprentices into the UK business last year, an increase of 66% on 2019
and plans for continuous growth, with similar numbers this coming September. Its four-year programme enables apprentices to study for a recognised qualification with one of its approved educational institutions while also gaining first hand work-experience. There are six bespoke programmes (ranging from level 3 to level 6) across a variety of functions (eg, engineering, business etc), which have all been designed to meet both the current and future needs of the business.
Each year about 40 apprentices will graduate off the programme and take on roles eliminating the need to hire expensive external candidates. MBDA estimates the net cost savings of its programme to be in excess of £75,000 per year since its introduction. Each apprentice receives a bespoke placement plan, which is designed to give them exposure to all areas of the business. Apprentices complete an intensive residential course that has been tailored specifically for MBDA’s needs.
Alongside this it also hosts a range of workshops and sessions as part of its Generation Healthy Minds Programme. These sessions are run by specialist psychologists, wellbeing, mind-set and performance experts. The programme and the supporting sessions are designed to support its early careers members throughout their programme with the tools and knowledge to help them reach their potential and thrive mentally.
Since 2001 MBDA has retained 81% of its apprentices, with all business apprentices achieving first class honours degrees in
the past seven years, and 30% of its engineering apprentices progressing to further qualifications upon completion of their mandatory standard qualifications. To allow apprentices to re-locate, the firm has increased the starting salary by 23% since 2016.
Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council
RCT Council’s apprenticeship programme was established in 2012. The council identified that as the largest employer in the area, the opportunity to recruit apprentices provided it with a chance to make a significant investment in the people of RCT. This investment would come in the form of providing employment and training opportunities to people across the area and the chance to develop skills and experience of the highest standard throughout their apprenticeship.
Since the Covid19 pandemic began, it has seen the number of 16-24 year olds claiming universal credit in RCT almost double from 2,346 in February 2020 to 4,333 in August 2020. A significant proportion of the apprentices (61%) come
from the 16-24 year old demographic.
The Apprenticeship Programme is fully integrated into the Workforce Planning and Succession Strategy, which sets out how RCT Council will meet future workforce challenges. With an ageing workforce and skills deficit, RCT is using apprenticeships to develop highly trained and experienced employees to meet future service needs.
In March this year the council hosted a virtual Career Fairs to promote its Graduate and Apprenticeship programme. More than 1,450 people attended the event. Despite the severe impact of the virus on RCT’s organisation, all 80 apprentices continued their employment with the organisation with many agreeing to be redeployed to other service areas and support with essential community services during the initial stages of the pandemic. Many apprentices have contributed to the continuation or establishment of essential services across the RCT borough.
The council has sought to improve this year has been its accessibility to the apprenticeship programme, particularly for individuals with additional needs or disabilities. It launched a programme called Gateway2Employment and revamped the Job Description to make them more inclusive and user friendly removing any unnecessary jargon and barriers.