Engaging in apprenticeships is one of many ways in which employers can acquire and develop the skills their firms need, while improving the employability of the younger generation.
With the levy now in force, it is a good time to look at what is happening on the ground. Recent figures from the National Apprenticeship Service show that 75 per cent of employers say that apprenticeships cut recruitment costs, while 92 per cent believe an apprenticeship programme leads to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.
These figures highlight the benefits of apprenticeships, and why businesses should consider doing more.
I’m proud that the City Corporation is rising to the challenge set by government to have 2.3 per cent of its workforce as apprentices. We are going above that figure, with an aim to recruit 100 new apprentices across the organisation. All our apprentices are paid the London Living Wage. We are working closely with financial services firms to improve uptake and provide clear career pathways, with opportunities for progression for candidates from all walks of life.
The Square Mile is home to 18,000 businesses which employ 483,000 people, with the vast majority of these firms being small and medium enterprises. Since it was announced, we have heard more businesses begin to talk about apprenticeships. And we have seen many of these firms express a real willingness to look at the opportunity they present to their organisation and the skills challenges they face.
Andrew Parmley, the former lord mayor, recently hosted a breakfast discussion on apprenticeships. While delegates showed an interest, they also spoke about the challenges of apprenticeships, especially for smaller firms. In the increasingly complex regulatory landscape, they said that businesses struggle to find the capacity to navigate the apprenticeship levy and identify training providers willing to train small numbers of apprentices.
At the City of London Corporation, we are piloting an approach with medium-sized banks and asset managers to test whether we can create a cohort of employers all looking to recruit an apprentice onto the same standard. Then the cohort can jointly purchase the training from a provider who can then deliver the training for a group of apprentices, rather than just one or two.
Time will tell whether this is a viable solution for the problems faced by the businesses on the pilot programme. But the fact that we were able to recruit nearly three times as many businesses onto the programme as we expected shows how widespread these challenges are throughout the financial and professional services sector.
My advice to any firm thinking about taking on apprentices is to be led by business need, not the levy. Focus on the challenges you face, like diversity, skills, or progression.
Work with your training provider on developing the curriculum to ensure that training meets your business need. Start small and engage the willing. If it works, sell the benefits throughout the organisation. And don’t be afraid to ask other employers how they did it.
Apprenticeships will continue to offer great opportunities for businesses that want to create more pathways into employment. Let’s make them work for everyone.