When the apprenticeship levy was introduced last year, it was met with mixed reviews. Despite being touted by the government as the "solution to the widening skills gap in the UK", many businesses criticised the reform, citing it as unnecessary, complicated and expensive.
At the one-year anniversary of the levy, which has just gone, I continue to believe that it should be seen as a positive, progressive step for businesses in general and the wider economy as a whole.
Not only has the levy offered an excellent chance for companies to invest in their workforce through hiring new staff, developing existing employees and shaping skills to their exact requirements, it has also allowed a number of people to enter the workforce who may not have been able to otherwise.
Productivity was a key factor in introducing the levy, with its implementation last year aiming to allow businesses to create a pipeline of talent and provide essential on-the-job training to equip employees with the vocational skills the workforce needs.
Vital impact on business
One year on and we’ve seen many benefits of the levy here at Barclays. In fact, our apprentices have a vital impact on the business, with each apprentice contributing £18,000 of net productivity gain over the course of their programme. This productivity boost not only benefits the apprentices themselves and, of course, our business, but it also spills over into the whole economy and will help to narrow the skills gap between the UK and its competitors abroad in these uncertain political times.
As a result of the impact that our apprenticeships have on the business and the success we at Barclays have seen from the first year of the levy, we’re doubling our intake of apprentices this year. The levy has also allowed us to invest more money into our apprenticeship schemes, which led to us launching our master’s degree apprenticeship and thus enabling our employees to gain even higher qualifications through an apprenticeship scheme.
Despite the success we have had at Barclays, many companies have expressed confusion at the levy and have been at a loss as to how they should utilise it to the advantage of their business. To those employers, I would highly recommend that they asses their workforce and consider where the skills gaps need to be filled. Many employers aren’t aware that they can use the levy pot to develop the talents of their existing staff, not just new apprentices.
Growing list of apprenticeships
I would also advise they look into the range of apprenticeships available, as there are many different levels of apprenticeships you can invest in with the levy allocation. The list is growing by the day with standards including foundation, higher and degree and master’s apprenticeships.
There is also a wide range of support available for those who are unsure how best to use the levy to their advantage. They can consult the National Apprenticeship Service, along with the many training providers that are out there, as they all offer lots of resources to help get started. Similarly, the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network (AAN) is a group of apprentice employers who are spearheading the drive to encourage employers to invest in apprenticeships in England. They will also be available to guide, support and advise from an employer perspective.
Although not perfect, the apprenticeship levy is a strong step in the right direction for training a stronger workforce in this country, so I implore companies and individuals to take this opportunity and use it as best they can.
Mike Thompson is head of apprenticeships at Barclays and a member of the government’s Apprenticeship Delivery Board