How can we help leaders to love the apprenticeship levy?

Almost a year since its launch, is it time to make the apprenticeship levy more appealing to leaders, asks Dr Simon Hayward

Many organisations are yet to really benefit from the apprenticeship levy. This is partly due to the name, which could be misleading – because the apprenticeship levy is not just for apprentices. Neither is it merely a ‘levy’ – it feeds your organisation’s government-subsidised learning and development fund.

Developing leaders and managers is a priority for many organisations as the pace of change increases in our unpredictable world. However, only half of organisations are aware that funding is available for learning across all levels of the business, and just 57 per cent of those eligible to pay say they are using the apprenticeship levy at all. Last October, skills minister Anne Milton said she was “quite flabbergasted” to discover many businesses were unaware of the apprenticeship levy, despite having contributed large amounts under the measure.

This is a great shame, because apprenticeships enable colleagues across organisations to benefit from subsidised learning and development. Management apprenticeships offer opportunities for structured, professional learning, leading to recognised qualifications. The best management apprenticeship programmes offer rich, blended learning experiences, combining formal learning with coaching and on-the-job training and experience, which helps embed learning into your organisation. They can be focused on developing leadership and management skills in line with organisational goals. Since 1 March, the government has also approved a funding allocation for MBAs and degree apprenticeships.

Often, a good place to start is by engaging leaders and managers with the concept of management apprenticeships. New research from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) found that 58 per cent of HR professionals believe middle and senior managers are unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, with 53 per cent citing the “reputation and image” of apprenticeships as the main reasons for this. This reluctance is disadvantaging many organisations.

HR leaders can help to position management apprenticeships as qualifications to aspire to. There’s no need to shy away from the misconception that apprenticeship training is only relevant for early careers. Embrace it and explain why professional apprenticeships are relevant and valuable for every career stage.

Senior leaders are instrumental in engaging everyone across the business with the big ‘why’ of apprenticeship learning.  Authentic communication from the top, which lays out the organisational and individual benefits, will require early involvement with the C-suite, who should miss no opportunity to visibly support management apprenticeship programmes.

Line managers are also critical. Support from a line manager or team leader will make all the difference between the success and failure of the both the individual learner and the whole apprenticeship learning experience.  

As for the learners themselves, outline the benefits to individuals about a portable development programme which they can carry with them wherever their career takes them and which will equip them for future success within their current role and beyond it. 

To qualify for funding and to get the best out of a programme, apprentices need to spend 20 per cent of their time at work on relevant activities, but this doesn’t mean being away from the office in face-to-face training one day a week. Build projects and challenges over the length of the programme which complement the day job, benefitting both the learner and your organisation.

Some big employers already have millions of pounds worth of apprenticeship levy funds to spend. You have two years to claim the funds in your digital account. If you don’t make your claim within two years, any unused funds will expire. So if you haven’t yet thought about how you’re going to invest, now is the time.

Dr Simon Hayward is CEO of Cirrus