Benchmark your apprenticeships programme

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It’s been almost two years since the Apprenticeship Levy was first introduced and with the scheme under review, things may be set to change. Plans to broaden the range of subjects available and allow Levy funds to be shared down the supply chain mean that there is now a greater opportunity for businesses and organisations to deliver a workable apprenticeships programme. For those just starting, there’s a lot of ground to cover. For those already underway, the scale of the challenge—and the opportunity—are getting clearer. For most, there are hurdles and surprises on the way.   

In this article we help you get a handle on your performance. We look at why apprenticeships can be so important for the right kind of organisation—bust some myths holding them back—and highlight the key obstacles and solutions to creating a stronger workforce.

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Myth busting - the fallacies that prevent promising apprenticeship programmes

The Apprenticeship Levy has put apprenticeships in the spotlight—and not always in a positive way. Many commentators have criticised the Levy for being bureaucratic and awkward to navigate. It’s true, there have been teething problems. As with any piece of legislation it will always take time for employers to catch up—and it’s always a good idea to consult with specialists when determining how your training will be delivered. However, many of the complaints have come from organisations for whom substantial training is out of their comfort zone. But as that was half the point, perhaps it’s time they reconsider?

Overcoming hurdles to implementation

Confusion, concerns over cost, and complexity are holding back some employers from taking full advantage. How far have you progressed with the following hurdles?

Navigating the Apprenticeship Levy can be complicated. Even organisations with strong learning and development teams are not necessarily prepared to get the most out of the scheme. A dedicated provider can help you navigate the intricacies of the funding rules and ensure you get the most value for money.

Persuading internal stakeholders.

Justifying time out of the workplace. 

Finding the resources.

Deciphering the legislation.

It’s not hard to convince human resources or learning and development personnel that training is a good thing. However, that still leaves a host of internal stakeholders who must approve the scheme. Have you identified skills gaps in your organisation? Have you defined the objectives your apprenticeships programme will support for your organisation?

20% ‘off the job’ training is non-negotiable and employers will have to sacrifice working hours for training. Apprenticeships are about investing in the long-term skills of your workforce and their value will be felt through enhanced service and productivity. Ultimately, most organisations will feel the benefit on the bottom line. According to the Department for Education, 70% of employers say apprenticeships have improved product quality and service, and apprenticeships provide a typical return of £26-28 for every £1 of government investment in apprenticeships at Levels 2 and 3.

Do you have an idea of how much your apprenticeships programme might cost, both in terms of capital and manpower? As well as appointing staff to help deliver the programme, remember that 20% off the job training means 20% less work. It’s important to realise how this will impact across the organisation. Ensure participants are fully aware of the required commitment and that other team members are ready to pick up the slack.

Don't forget the technicalities

How will you manage your finances? 

Sorting the finances is arguably one of the more complex aspects of setting up an Apprenticeship Levy funded programme. Whenever working with Government funding there is an element of complexity and rules designed to safeguard public money. From claiming co-funding to making payments or setting up Levy funds from connected companies—if you don’t have the skillset internally, you’ll need help.

Benchmark your apprenticeships programme

How well is your apprenticeships programme performing?

- Are you unsure where to start with the Apprenticeship Levy?

- Making plans but struggling to get your programme off the ground?

- Already implemented but want to know if it meets industry standards?

The Apprenticeships Benchmarking Assessment

Discover how effective your plans and live programmes are and where there may be room for improvement, with our Apprenticeships Benchmarking Assessment

Answer just 20 short questions designed by Pearson's apprenticeships experts and receive a bespoke report on your plan, including tips for better performance.

Are you eligible (and prepared) to become a certified training provider? 

Some employers are large enough or spend enough on training to warrant the need to become certified training providers in their own right. If you are planning on becoming an Employer Provider, have you considered the compliance and audit requirements associated?

Even if you’re administering training yourself, a qualified training provider can help with the transition…

Have you chosen the right provider? 

Most employers will need to seek an external provider to navigate the complexity of programme funding, design and implementation. Choose a provider that can guide you through the process and develop a training programme that is tailored to your organisation. Ensure they understand your organisation and can demonstrate relevant experience. Delivering training is a complex process involving multiple stakeholders—you need a partner who can be an indispensable ally, a critical friend and trusted expert all in one.

Have you established governance? 

Be clear who is responsible for administering training and ensure any sub-contractors are on the approved list. Ensure there is no confusion around roles and responsibilities both internally and with providers. Insist on a dedicated key account manager and ensure you have regular meetings with your training provider to discuss progress on your programme and any issues they’re having. But no matter how capable, they can’t do everything—remember to ensure you have the right people and right mindset across your organisation.


But are apprenticeships really comparable to higher education? In short, yes. Level 6 apprenticeships are exactly equivalent to degrees. However, they also offer something universities cannot. Employer designed apprenticeships provide more relevant experience than full-time education routes. Ultimately, the adaptability and capability of the new breed of apprentices is already beginning to overturn outmoded attitudes and prove that university is not the only pathway to higher learning. In addition, apprenticeships can be significantly more cost effective. While employers invest at least £82 million in graduate recruitment, according to the AGR 2016 Annual Survey, these hires are notoriously difficult to retain. As an alternative, employers can switch over their current training to an apprenticeships programme to stop paying a premium for graduates and start training new and existing employees with the skills they need.

Back to basics -

Apprenticeships offer both immediate and long-term benefits. Employers can access significant funding, redeem their contributions to the Apprenticeship Levy and offset tax and existing training costs while meeting an urgent need for training. In turn, the investment in skills creates a more capable and committed workforce that earns while it learns, enhancing service, reducing recruitment costs and increasing bottom line.

why apprenticeships can be so effective

Some of the biggest barriers to implementation aren’t grounded in reality. There are those who still perceive apprenticeships as something for younger people or that they operate at a lower level to higher learning. In fact, apprenticeships are designed for lifelong learning and deliver opportunities throughout careers at all levels; from providing the first step up to management, to enabling employees to retrain and keep pace with the changing workplace. For those still concerned about the old-fashioned connotations, there is an opportunity to rebrand apprenticeships to differentiate them in a new era. Many organisations are calling apprentices ‘participants’ and rebranding their training into a ‘leadership programme’ or similar.

Interestingly, the anxiety of perception runs both ways. Some have suggested that employer created apprenticeships, for instance, in cleaning or customer service, could devalue the perception of apprenticeships themselves. Either way, perception will catch up with reality. There will be excellent and subpar apprenticeships, just as there are excellent and subpar degrees. The organisations that invest in worthwhile training will prove what really matters in their long-term success. 

Apprenticeships aren’t for everybody. There will be a fair proportion of organisations which exceed a £3m payroll but have no substantial requirement for training—in which case, the Levy is indeed more of a tax. But for others with the right mindsets and markets, the upsides are huge. Apprenticeship ready organisations embrace transformation and share a continuous commitment to improvement. They understand that training is essential to flourish in a rapidly evolving economy and that apprenticeships ought to be a key element of their recruitment, development and retention strategy—rather than simply about recouping Levy contributions.