The Apprenticeship Levy never fails to ignite debate, with many employers feeling that it doesn’t work for them.
I was fortunate to be invited to join a panel of speakers to debate this recently, in an event organised by the ‘5% club’ (whose founding ambition is for 5% of every employer’s workforce to be made up of apprentices, trainees or graduates). It took place at the Co-op’s impressive HQ in the heart of Manchester, and it was refreshing to meet both a panel and audience who had such a variety of perspectives on how the Levy is working in practice, five years after its introduction.
Employers from the construction sector, NHS, and retail, as well as representatives from the Department for Education and City & Guilds joined the debate and brought to life their experience of making apprenticeships work, with City & Guilds sharing the latest employer research on this topic.
As both an employer provider for Bauer Media, and a main provider for 60 other employers, Bauer Academy have a 360-degree view on this, understanding the challenges and the reward that apprenticeships offer but also some of the difficulties in delivering them effectively and in partnership with employers.
I was able to tell the story of how, from a standing start, Bauer Media have come to see apprenticeships as the cornerstone of their talent development strategy. Given the wider economic picture, I was also able to illustrate how apprenticeships drive value for Bauer’s UK business – for example, there’s now a community of coaching professionals who have all trained utilising the Levy, eliminating the need to buy in external coaching services.
What quickly became clear is that everyone sees the far-reaching benefits that apprenticeships bring to individuals and businesses. Social mobility? Tick. Increasing diversity? Tick. Earn while you learn? Tick. However, what’s also apparent is that for many employers, navigating the complexity of the apprenticeship system, particularly in relation to employment contracts, is a tangible barrier to entry.
We also heard about the Co-op’s ground-breaking levy-share scheme, enabling talent development within a whole range of SMEs, charities and start-ups, with a laser focus on increasing diversity. What made this even more impressive was that, recognising the aforementioned complexity, Co-op have employed a co-ordinator to navigate this on behalf of the receiving employers, who as I’ve experienced, often feel bewildered by the whole concept. Through this scheme, Co-op also work on behalf of other big employers in the North West who have levy funding to donate.
As to possible levy reform? At Bauer Academy we are keeping a completely open mind. There’s much talk of the levy being available for non-apprenticeship development, our key concern is how that would be regulated to ensure that employers, and of course the learners themselves, are receiving high quality training.
As a debate it will doubtless run and run. However, the opportunity to reflect on the distance that Bauer Media and Bauer Academy have travelled, and to debate and enjoy different viewpoints on the Apprenticeship Levy reaffirmed my pride in all that we’ve achieved.