How to use apprenticeships to maximise business growth

Feb 7, 2023 | Apprentices & school leaver, How-to

It’s National Apprenticeship Week and an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of apprenticeships. Nichola Hay, BPP’s Director of Apprenticeship Strategy and Policy, explains how they can maximise business growth and solve challenges.  

As Chair of AELP I have experience of supporting clients in achieving their growth ambitions, as well as improving education and skills policy in the UK.

In my keynote at the ISE Delivering Apprenticeships Conference I outlined the apprenticeship landscape and potential for business growth, demonstrating how apprenticeships are an effective tool to help solve business challenges. I also offered predictions for how the apprenticeship scheme may evolve.

If you missed the ISE Delivering Apprenticeships Conference, here are five key takeaways

Make apprenticeships accessible and appealing

The first step to businesses making the most of apprenticeship schemes, is ensuring there’s a wide pool of apprentices to choose from. Therefore we need to make sure learners are aware of apprenticeships, understand the benefits and make sure it’s a consideration once they leave school.

According to research from PLMR, only 26% of teachers feel comfortable supporting students with apprenticeships applications, vs 90% of teachers who are comfortable with university applications. If teachers don’t truly understand apprenticeships, how can we expect students to?

A teacher’s influence on their students is significant, as is their parents. One way employers can raise awareness with parents is to hold their own parents’ evenings event, where they can understand more about the apprenticeships on offer, as well as the benefits, so they can better support the young people in their life when making decisions about the next stage of their learning. Read more ways to attract and engage apprentices

To raise the profile of apprenticeships more widely businesses should also look to lobby the government and work with schools to increase awareness.

For those who have made the decision to explore apprenticeships there are still barriers. To ensure employers have access to a full talent pool, and are able to recruit apprentices that best suit their business, we need to look beyond the maths and English skills of applicants, and give businesses the autonomy to choose apprenticeships that suit their needs.

If we allow prior learning to be considered and undertake a thorough skill analysis, we’d be able to identify apprentices that are operating at the level required to support and grow in a business, regardless of their functional skills.

Keep apprentices for the long term

Like any employee looking for a job apprentices will have certain criteria they expect of their employer. According to UCAS, when looking for an apprenticeship the most important factors include a great brand reputation, pay increased based on performance and progression.

For employers to truly make the most of apprentices it’s essential they treat and value them as they would any other employee, and ensure they’re getting the support, progression and incentives they need to succeed and remain within the company.

A useful initiative to keep apprentices engaged throughout the scheme is to offer milestone incentives throughout their programme to celebrate their progress and achievements.

When it comes to ongoing progression for your apprentices, this should be considered alongside a organisation’s longer-term goals. Ideally four to five years down the line, once an apprentice has graduated, they’ll remain within the business, so it’s worthwhile aligning their training and skills with the business’ long-term goals. For example if digital transformation is a key area of focus for the business, ensure this is a key part of your apprenticeship scheme.

Design an apprenticeship programme to benefit everyone

We know apprenticeships can be a huge asset to an organisation, and can be pivotal to the long-term success of a business, but that depends on getting the programme right and creating an environment where apprentices want to stay for a number of years.

The key to this is finding the perfect relationship triangle between training partners, businesses and apprenticeships. If you can get this right everything else will be simpler.

For example, training programmes don’t all have to be the same – instead training providers should be able to tailor them to each cohort, and use pre-training elements if required. At the start of each programme it’s essential the employer is clear on the objectives of the apprenticeship scheme, and that this is aligned with the business goals, so they can measure the impact.

Programmes that are the most beneficial are those that are designed in partnership with a training provider, with a thorough consideration and what’s best for the apprentices and the business’ priorities.

The business benefits of getting apprenticeships right

When approached properly, and in partnership with the right training provider, apprenticeships can be a valuable tool to overcome a range of business challenges including:

Succession planning to address the different staffing levels within a business. From senior management to operational levels, apprenticeships can provide entry routes at all levels developing career pathways within an organisation.

Building talent pipelines and attracting new talent, whether that’s early talent from schools, colleges or universities, or wider talent like parents returning to work or those displaced from the job market, to support ongoing workforce planning.

Bridging skills gaps once they’ve been identified. Not only can apprenticeships fill these gaps, but they can also help build bridges and stepping-stones to address these gaps longer term. For example, businesses who are planning to restructure can identify skills that may be lost and look to reskill individuals to fill gaps in these areas. Read how employers are shifting attention to school leavers to beat skills shortages.

Creating a more diverse workforce is a huge benefit of apprenticeships. They provide access to previously under-utilised talent pools at all levels within the business, from early talent to individuals displaced within the job market, to the long term unemployed.

Upskilling existing staff and supporting your people development plan. Apprenticeship programmes provide staff with the opportunity to upskill and retrain for promotion, or provide the ability to move to other areas in the business.

Final thoughts

The benefits to apprenticeships are vast, but for businesses to make the most of them they must think long term, prioritise the apprentice and create a programme and environment, in partnership with a trusted training provider, that makes them a desirable employer.

 Read more insight, data and advice on apprenticeships

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