I consider myself to be first and foremost an education professional. The nature of my work focuses on further and higher education, and in particular the government’s reforms to apprenticeships. I am also the co-founder of a software business – Mesma – providing quality management software to schools, colleges and apprenticeship training providers and as a result, operate within the digital industry.
This is a digital industry which often highlights issues with attracting suitable talent. According to Tech North, 58% of businesses highlight recruitment of talented people as a key challenge. Their most recent report breaks the issues down further as i) a lack of people with relevant industrial experience ii) targeting the right people and iii) issues surrounding pay. When we consider this in the context of a higher-than-the-norm level of graduate unemployment (10% for graduates in digital sector compared to average of 5%) we have to ask ourselves whether we need to rethink our approach to employing the future digital workforce.
So, with my digital business hat on, I recently attended an event aimed at supporting people like me to grow our organisations. A panel discussion took place, focused, in part on the technical skills recruitment challenges of the sector. I was genuinely surprised that there wasn’t a single mention of apprenticeships as a potential source to overcome such issues. Surprised because, when we have an acknowledged skills gap, there was so little focus on alternatives to the well-trodden route of recruiting graduates. It seems to me that as businesses, we are trying to overcome a problem by just doing more of the same. I am not suggesting that recruiting an apprentice is a better approach to recruiting a graduate in all circumstances (not least because the line between graduate and apprentice is increasingly blurred). What I am suggesting however, is there is a choice for employers in the digital industry that can broaden the potential field of recruits if we re-evaluate our approach.
With that in mind, here are five things to know about apprenticeships if you are a digital business:
- There is a good range of digital apprenticeship standards
There are currently 24 digital apprenticeship standards either available for use or in development. These range from level 3 apprenticeships (equivalent to A-level) through to level 7 post-graduate apprenticeships. They cover everything from software development through to cyber security. There are thousands of apprentices studying towards achieving these standards however I do appreciate businesses of all sizes can initially find the apprenticeship landscape difficult to navigate. Once it is understood and considered as a credible part of both recruitment and retention strategies, the initial time spent will be worth it. (You can find the full list of apprenticeship standards for digital here)
- 20% of the time is spent away from the day job with a specialist training provider
An apprenticeship is a job coupled with ongoing knowledge, skills and behaviours development for its duration. For that development to be robust, there is a requirement that at least 20% of the apprentice’s time is spent in off-the-job training. Whilst some organisations (often in customer-facing operational environments) find this a challenge, this is rarely the case in the digital industry. In fact, it is possible you would want the off-the-job training to be above 20%, due to the need to develop underpinning knowledge before applying it in practice.
What is important to know is the 20% time away from the job can be managed in lots of different ways. It is not necessarily day release for example. Working with a partner who can help you understand the flexibilities available to you will pay dividends in the long run.
- The price you will pay for specialist training is less than you think
Funding for apprenticeships can broadly be split into two scenarios:
- You will be paying the apprenticeship levy at a rate of 0.5% of your annual wage bill if it totals £3million or more. This is collected on a month by month basis by HMRC. Your organisation can then access the levy pot to recruit apprentices.
- If you are not a levy payer, the government will fund 90% of an apprenticeship for you, with you paying the remaining 10%, with some concessions to this where you wouldn’t pay anything.
For the purpose of illustration, each apprenticeship is allocated to a funding band:
Software Developer is currently allocated to a band of £18,000
This means your contribution towards the training and development for the full period of the apprenticeship would be £1,800 if you agree a price with the training provider of £18,000 (you may negotiate a lower overall price which would in turn reduce your contribution).
It is up to you and the training provider to agree how and when that is paid, with some minor boundaries put in place by the funding body to ensure we as employers pay our share.
In both scenarios, you are responsible for paying the apprentice’s wage. There is a minimum wage for apprentices of £3.70 for apprentices under 19 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year. You may want to pay more and even consider increasing pay as milestones are achieved throughout the duration of the apprenticeship.
- Introduction of end-point assessment
One of the biggest changes to apprenticeships in the last four years is the introduction of end-point assessment (EPA). This means that at a suitable point in time, you will decide (in consultation with the training provider and apprentice) that the apprentice does not require any more training and is ready to be put forward for the end-point assessment. A third party end-point assessment organisation, chosen by you from an approved register, will undertake a rigorous period of testing of the apprentice to determine whether they will pass their apprenticeship. Whilst this is a new dimension to apprenticeships, the feedback on early end-point assessments has been positive from both the employer and apprentice perspectives.
- Apprenticeships aren’t just for new recruits
An apprenticeship is a vehicle to develop your existing staff members. To retain good staff, it’s important to provide opportunity for robust continuous professional development. Apprenticeships offer a vehicle to support movement of staff into new roles, underpinned by a structured programme of learning and development.
Louise Doyle, Senior Associate (SDN)