Blog: What apprenticeships can ensure there are no skills shortages in the future

There has been a lot of bad press recently about apprenticeships and the government levy, which mandates any company with an annual wage bill that exceeds £3m must pay a charge of 0.5% for apprenticeships, and how it is not working. I am a strong advocate of apprenticeships and in my role as an apprenticeships ambassador I felt compelled to comment and write this piece.

In my years of experience working closely with the further education sector I have observed that many HR and learning and development specialists have not fully grasped apprenticeship training, the levy and other aspects about it. What is most worrying is that some medium to large companies seem too corporate to care. Some of them view the levy as a hindrance and have chosen to write it off as another tax. These are the same companies that simultaneously complain about the skills shortage and how schools, colleges and universities are not producing high calibre people.  

If there is the threat of a skills shortage then the only way forward is to become a part of the solution and invest in developing people.

There is no new money to be found as the levy essentially becomes part of the training budget. So what is stopping companies from making apprenticeships integral to their training programmes?

Time constraints is a common excuse: “I’d rather have my staff spending more time dealing with customers and generating income”. The 20% off the job training also has the potential to be off-putting. In insurance this is a real concern; considering the industry has a 300,000 plus strong workforce it’s a shame only a few thousand of that number have any professional qualifications.  Is insurance a profession or an industry? That’s a question often raised, but the fact is unlike established professions the possession of qualifications has never been a statutory requirement for individuals in insurance.

Engaging with young people and developing them can bring a variety of benefits to businesses. Growing workforce and brand, increasing competitiveness and satisfying skills gaps can all be achieved through the employment of young people and apprenticeships. We as an industry must work together and do more to invest in people and make attainment of professional qualifications integral to business objectives.

Remaining competitive, working innovatively and staying one step ahead of the game are all vital to the success of any business. What’s more, your people are your business. This makes recruiting, training and retaining the right people a top priority. Thinking ahead means that you have the skills in place to support your businesses growth in the future and not just resting on your laurels.

If you have considered investing in staff through an apprenticeship medium or a stand-alone in-house medium, what needs to be considered is future proofing talent strategy.

If attitudes do not change then in five to ten years’ time I’m certain that with all that is going on we will still be talking about the skills shortage.  Technology, innovations and changing consumer behaviours will demand new competencies in people. With that in mind we need to address what we should do to ensure that our development agenda stays ahead of the game.

I propose a simple three-prong approach to talent strategy planning – based on three basic elements - skills that have arrived, skills in progress and skills in anticipation.

Skills that have arrived: These are the skills that we see around us now; they are well established and some have been in practice for centuries. Most of our training and development activities are based around these established skills and are fundamental to the running of business as it caters to needs now. My recommendation is let the all the current training plans take focus to strengthen skills that have arrived.

Skills in Progress:   These are the skills that are evolving around us now. They are not as well established and some are very new. To some these may appear to be alien concepts of a job and make it difficult to fully understand what they are or why they are needed. Some examples of this are ‘digital marketing’ and ‘social media management’. Businesses are finding skills shortage in these types of jobs mainly because they are just reacting now.

Some did not anticipate these skills would need to exist and those who did anticipate them probably dismissed it thinking this will never become a mainstream job role. I advise to let all the current training plans take focus to strengthen skills that are in progress. The Institute for Apprenticeships is catering for this by adding new apprenticeships programmes to help businesses prepare their workforce for the world ahead of us.

Skills in anticipation: These skills are not yet here, or do not have mainstream job roles, soon they will be in the skills in progress category. Focusing on skills required for future technologies but may raise eyebrows when discussed. It is important to start planning and investigating now so time and budgets can be put in place. An example of an anticipated skill is the drone pPilot, which would require training of basic version of pilots training, the flying itself and safeguarding. A plan can already be implemented in preparation for this in the skills anticipated model.

If HR and L&D specialists can structure their talent strategy on these three prongs and focus on business needs, market trends, competition analysis and customer needs then apprenticeships will prove to be the ideal platform for this.

Apprenticeship standards have been written by employers and are relevant to business sectors. This new approach is highly flexible and can be designed around business needs so they have full control. The levy itself is only the mere process. Businesses should not be demotivated by procedures and look at what they want to achieve and see apprenticeships for the great opportunity it really is.

A great Chinese proverb sums this up: “If you plan for one year, plant rice. If you plan for 10 years, plant trees but if you plan for 100 years, educate mankind.”

If businesses continue to ignore the skills gap it will only grow wider overtime and could have even larger repercussions than it has in any preceding century. Despite the UK being an island geographically our nation's economy is certainly not an island. In order for us to remain competitive and to keep people in work we must address the issue. This is not a problem that can be ignored any longer. I would insist that whatever route you decide to take invest in your people today so we can all reap the benefits tomorrow.

George Crescens 85x115

Crescens George, Wiser Academy


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