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Unlocking Doors and Creating Inroads: The Benefits of the Apprenticeship Levy

On the 4th April of this year, the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced across the UK. For some, the Levy had been a long time coming; for others, it came as a surprise and a shock to the business system. Whichever way you see it, it’s undeniable that the Apprenticeship Levy is set to be a game changer. Implemented as an attempt to help the Government double the level of funding available for apprenticeships to £3Bn by 2020, the Levy will no doubt increase the number of apprenticeship applicants as well as encouraging more businesses to source talent.

While the effects of Brexit have not been fully felt yet, there is an anticipative air, a level of uncertainty about how the UK will combat the major skills shortages following our leave from the European Union. Industries which are already facing a notable skills gap such as manufacturing, construction, engineering, IT and facilities management could therefore reap the benefits of this imposed levy. Instead of viewing it as yet another government tax, businesses should see it as a welcome opportunity and consider the ways in which they can utilise it to their advantage.

Public opinion on apprenticeships is changing and has been over the past decade, with young people and businesses recognizing the practical advantages apprenticeships can bring. This can especially benefit the facilities management industry, as an industry which requires a more “hands-on” approach. Public opinion on apprenticeships is changing and has been over the past decade, with young people and businesses recognising the practical advantages apprenticeships can bring. “We are in a transitional stage where the gap in perceptions of university degrees and apprenticeship qualifications are closing. Over time, and sped up by the help of this levy, apprenticeships will become the way most employers think of training their staff,” says Glen Cardinal, Managing Director of London-based Platinum Facilities and Maintenance Services. The Levy is only designed to affect employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3M, who will be required to spend 0.5% of the total on the Levy. However, savvy SMEs can use the Levy as a model template, and in effect mimic its very design and motivations. Cardinal believes that as an SME in the M&E sector, training two apprentices per year has helped in the company’s overall growth and freshened up their approach to learning and career development. As a whole this will be of benefit to both current and future employees.

Although the Levy may be seen as a catalyst in learning and development departments for some, for others, the Levy is simply a new label for something they have been doing for years. Rob Legge, Group CEO of global leading facilities management provider Servest comments: “We were waving the ‘apprenticeship’ flag long before the idea of a levy to fund future placements was even on the horizon. Apprenticeships are a valuable part of the UK economy and the Levy should improve the prospects for young people entering employment.” Servest are in a position to measure the successes of their learning and development initiatives: the business has seen an increase in internal promotions and movement from 10% to 31%. Demonstrably then, nurturing internal talent can improve both turnover rates and business performance.

But apprenticeships, like any relationship in business, are a two way street – the benefits gained for an organisation are certainly felt more strongly if the apprentice is valued and if their skills are utilised in the best possible way. Adrian Powell, Director of build and move specialists Active, believes an apprentice has “real potential to grow within your business, and they are arguably the most beneficial way to futureproof your workforce.” He advises businesses to “bear this in mind during training and try to keep apprentices involved in business decisions to make them feel a real part of the team – as one day they may well have taken up a more senior role”.

To prove his point, he draws on the success of Active’s own apprenticeship program which has seen Jennie Armley go from an apprentice back in 2015 to her current position as a member of their marketing team. Powell even hints at the power of apprenticeship programs to attract diverse talent, stating: “Our latest addition to the team is doing fantastically well and it’s great to see such a positive female role in an otherwise male-dominated sector.” For organisations trying to advance their diversity programs and become more inclusive, apprenticeships can be a great way to do so. Unlike unpaid internships which very much cater to those who can afford to work for free, apprenticeships are open to all and are attractive to those who need to gain experience and skills in a working environment whilst earning a salary which can also support them. They also provide a route onto the career ladder which many people may not have considered. Programs like Servest’s ‘Future Leaders’, which allow apprentices to gain experience in a wide range of sectors, mean that a young woman keen to gain experience in HR may actually end up falling in love with the work she undertook as an apprentice in the building services or security division.

But while the Levy aims to increase the number of apprenticeships, it’s not just about the quantity, especially for those smaller firms in facilities management. Quality and commitment from just one apprentice can be way more beneficial than employing several apprentices who you have to train individually. “In the space of 18 months, our first and only apprentice to date has been involved in everything from office admin, stock control and management, to dealing with inbound customer enquiries,” says Rob Scantlebury Head of Operations at Access Cameras. “As a small business, this has had a direct impact on our ability to grow, allowing more experienced staff to focus their time on revenue generating tasks.”

It’s fair to say that facilities management isn’t naturally the first choice for young people entering the world of work, mainly due to lack of awareness. If FM organisations create inroads for young people to explore the possibilities of the industry, then this will help with talent attraction and retention. The strongest divisions in companies have the strongest succession plans; and managerial success is often quantified by the quality of the people coming up from underneath the managers in question. Apprenticeships place the onus on the quality of the leadership in question.

Alice Finney, Specialist in workplace and the built environment.