Say hello to Phil – the newest member of the SDN team. In a previous life, Phil was marketing lead for apprenticeships at an FE College and has an in-depth understanding of the apprenticeship reforms. So we thought we’d ask him to share some of his wisdom… We think it’s rather good.
Over the last few years, training providers up and down the country have done an exceptional job of adapting their apprenticeship provision so it’s more employer focused and tailored to individual businesses’ needs. But do employers in your sector know your programmes have changed? And are they falling over themselves to work with you?
If not… it can be worth doing a quick audit of your employer-facing channels to double-check your employers are seeing, hearing and feeling the messages you want to convey about your apprenticeship offer.
Here are four quick checks you can do to make sure your apprenticeship service is hitting the mark with employers….
Your website is your online shop window
The way employers buy services has changed. It doesn’t matter if you meet employers at trade shows or speak to them on the phone, they are highly likely to visit your website as part of their purchasing decision. If they find outdated information, broken links or conflicting information, it’s likely to turn them off.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so ask yourself… Are the pages easy to find? Is it in a language employers understand? Does it explain how employers can tailor the training programme? And does it represent real, current, opportunities and benefits?
Yesterday, I took a cursory glance at a number of leading apprenticeship provider and college websites. Over half were still promoting the national AGE grant as a benefit to employers, which is now two years out of date. Think how this reflects on your whole apprenticeship offer when an employer calls to find out more. Not only does it start conversations on a negative footing, it gives the impression your whole service is out-of-date and not quality driven.
Your ‘Find Apprenticeship Training’ online listing
The government has spent millions of pounds in marketing to drive employers to the Find Apprenticeship Training service. The portal allows employers to search for an apprenticeship and then find, and compare, training providers. This is great news for smaller providers as you are given the same, equal, platform as your larger counterparts. But be careful not to over promise and under deliver.
For example, if you’re based in Cornwall, is your listing accurate in Newcastle as being able to deliver ‘at employers’ premises’? Are you listed for apprenticeships which you no longer offer or lack the capacity / capability to deliver?
If your listing is inaccurate, it can come back to bite. All employers are asked to score your provision on the portal. Bad reviews will turn other prospective employers off too – so think long-term. Aim for the right employers to choose you for the right programmes.
Show your level of service from the first call
So, the employer has seen your listing on the portal, read through your website and gives you a call… only to get through to someone that doesn’t understand what apprenticeships you offer, how training can be tailored or worse still… a voicemail service that never returns their call.
Consider, are your inbound calls answered by someone knowledgeable and positive about your service offer? Are they able to explain your services articulately or, if they don’t know, are they prepared to find out? Don’t underestimate how far a ‘can-do’ attitude will go when trying to win business.
To mitigate against this, try and involve the business development manager in conversations about curriculum design and delivery. This way they get a deeper understanding of the provision and can cascade this information to their teams. Here’s a list of employer questions that we think employer-facing staff should be able to answer.
The site visit
With the bespoke nature of apprenticeship standards, it’s important to think about how best to carry out your initial visit to the employer. Ideally, this is not simply a further sales pitch and a health and safety check, but an opportunity to start collecting information that will allow your curriculum teams to tailor the programme so that it delivers maximum value for the business.
Do your employer engagement staff have the tools to tease out the information your curriculum teams require?
There may be particular opportunities and limitations. For example, in a micro business, an apprentice may not have the opportunity to practice a particular skill they need to pass the apprenticeship standard. Knowing this in advance will stop any misunderstandings and allow you to build this into a learning plan and off-the-job training from the start.
Things change – review, review, review
Happy with all of the above? That’s a great start, but don’t rest on your laurels – employer expectations change with time.
Working with your business development teams, build feedback loops into your service. Find out and record why employers are choosing, or not choosing, to work with you, and where your service could improve. Share this insight with curriculum staff, so they can tweak the overall curriculum design or adapt the messaging to employers. This allows you to continuously develop a high-quality, tailored apprenticeship service.
SDN provides marketing and business development support for apprenticeship providers to help you win more of the right kind of business. This includes impartial advice, employer engagement training and ‘mystery shopping’ audits. With our support, you can understand where improvements are needed so that your employer-facing staff are articulating the exceptional apprenticeship service you offer.