Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to get experienced, skilled people into roles. Respondents to the Chamber’s Quarterly Economic Survey have highlighted difficulties recruiting for a prolonged period of time.

More detailed work on skills and employment through the Chamber-led Lancashire Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) expressed particular concerns around an aging workforce and the key risks of losing years of experience through retirement.

The knock-on effect of this shortfall in the job market of experienced, skilled workers is wages being driven up and ongoing vacancies of crucial roles.

The need for employers to plan ahead to anticipate skills shortages is becoming increasingly important. This can include training your own to develop the skills in the workforce before experienced staff leave.

One option is apprenticeships. While there is a general awareness of apprenticeships among employers there is less understanding about exactly how they operate, who they are for and how they are funded.

What is an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is a paid job where the employee learns and gains valuable experience; a vehicle for training someone with the skills and knowledge to undertake a role/tasks within your organisation.

Apprentices spend at least 20% of their working hours in off-the-job training, delivered by someone outside your business, the provider. The other 80% of the time they are applying the skills/knowledge in the workplace with supervision and guidance from a mentor and learning from someone who already undertakes the role/tasks effectively in your business.

Off-the-job training can be delivered in a number of ways and will be agreed between the employer and provider. This could be through day release or block release, or in the workplace as long as it is directly relevant to the apprenticeship and it is not part of the apprentice’s normal duties.

Apprenticeships can be used for bringing in and training new staff or to upskill existing members of staff as they progress in their careers.

There are different levels of apprenticeship providing options depending on the role and apprentice:

Benefits

As mentioned above, apprenticeships can be an effective way to develop the skills within the workforce, protecting the employer from future staffing problems.

Employers who have an established apprenticeship programme reported that productivity in their workplace had improved by 76% whilst 75% reported that apprenticeships improved the quality of their product or service.

Benefits include:

• Increased productivity

• Better staff retention

• Innovative solutions

• Increased loyalty

• Increased employee satisfaction

• Reduced recruitment costs

Costs

Employers who have a payroll of over £3m per year must pay into the apprenticeship levy. The payment is 0.5% of their payroll and can be used to pay for apprenticeship training costs. Any unspent levy goes to the government and the employer loses the opportunity to invest those funds into their business.

For on-levy paying SMEs the cost of training is reduced to a maximum of £1,500 or a 5% contribution.

There are incentives to help with some of these costs, usually aimed at young people e.g. £1,000 paid to the employer if they enrol an apprentice before their 19th birthday; no employer contribution is the company employs fewer than 50 people and the apprentice is under 19.

Lancashire County Council and Chorley Council also have apprenticeship grants available which will further help towards costs.

The Lancashire Levy Transfer Network also allows levy payers to direct a proportion of any unspent levy to support non-levy payers with their contributions.

The cost of training is not the only cost incurred by employers; the apprentice must be paid a wage and there are time costs to be considered for off-the-job training and the time taken for staff members to mentor and train the apprentice.

Is an apprenticeship right for your business?

Whether apprenticeships are right for your business will depend on your circumstances.

Hiring a new member of staff as an apprentice is a commitment. The employer must accept that they will be investing in wages and training while the apprentice gains the skills to become productive.

The employer must also have the capacity to support and train the apprentice in the workplace and to lose the apprentice for the equivalent of one day a week to complete off-the-job training.

Apprenticeships are not suitable for back-filling roles after experienced members of staff have left the team.

If an employer is willing to commit to the above, using apprenticeship to recruit could be a good route to grow and develop talent.

Apprenticeships can also be used to upskill existing staff members. 

What next?

If you think an apprenticeship may be the right answer for your business you will need to consider the following:

• Recruiting or upskilling?

• If recruiting, are you looking for someone young to train from scratch or someone who already has experience?

• What apprenticeship standard will fit the role and which providers are able to deliver?

• How best to advertise an apprenticeship vacancy, if recruiting?

Your best first step is to seek out those offering impartial advice. No provider offers all apprenticeships so can only offer you what they deliver.

In Lancashire you can contact the Skills & Employment Hub and register your interest in taking on an apprentice. Search for the Lancashire Skills Pledge to register your interest (let them know the North & Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce sent you) and they will be in touch to discuss your needs.

You can also seek information through apprenticeship.gov.uk or Amazing Apprenticeships. Alternatively you can get in touch with the Chamber’s LSIP team to assist you (geffm@lancschamber.co.uk).

Early Connect Pilot

Lancashire is one of three areas in England to be running a pilot scheme to increase awareness of apprenticeship opportunities to young people.

Early Connect is a collaboration between UCAS and DfE. Lancashire’s pilot is being led by the LEP’s Skills & Employment Hub and supported by, among others, the Chamber and LSIP, the Careers Hub, DWP and employers.

In order to give apprenticeships parity of esteem with academic routes they are now featured on the UCAS website alongside degree options for those looking at their next steps following A Levels and other level 3 qualifications.

While this has been rolled out nationally, the Early Connect pilot areas are going a step further and advertising apprenticeship vacancies directly on the UCAS site. This will allow young people to see what kind of jobs are available and to apply early for a role within their chosen route.

This is also an excellent opportunity for employers to attract talented young people that would not always look at the vocational route.

In order to take advantage of the pilot we’re asking employers to think ahead and consider what apprenticeship vacancies they will have from June to September. These vacancies can then be advertised early to attract new talent to your business.

For more information or to advertise a vacancy contact the Lancashire Skills & Employment Hub or search for Lancashire Skills Pledge.

Promoting Apprenticeships to Young People

The Lancashire Work Based Learning Executive Forum is heavily involved in the promotion of apprenticeships within schools and colleges.

The ASK programme (Apprenticeship Support and Knowledge for schools and colleges) is funded by the Department for Education and aims to support learners in Year 10 to Year 13 and their parents/carers, to increase their awareness of apprenticeships as career choices. The programme also supports schools and colleges to embed apprenticeship knowledge within their teams. ASK includes activities such as dedicated workshops and apprenticeship application support.

Nina Dixon, Forum Manager, commented ‘The ASK programme has provided valuable support for schools, college and most importantly for the young people of Lancashire who are setting out on their career paths. With the support of the Lancashire Apprenticeship Ambassador Network, the ASK Delivery Team at Lancashire Forum has, to date, supported over 500 schools; over 80,000 learners; 1,040 teachers and 7,894 parents/carers in Lancashire and Cumbria schools and colleges’. 

*Employers who want to find out more about the Ambassador programme, and how they can contribute to the success of ASK across Lancashire, should contact Cath Robinson at cath@lancsforum.co.uk