Businesses rushing to spend their apprenticeship levy risk missing out

15 Feb 2019 By Lauren Brown

Employers should take stock and consider how apprentices can fill genuine skills gaps, CIPD conference is told

Businesses rushing to spend their apprenticeship levy in the ‘easiest and cleanest’ way before the first round of funding expires are missing an opportunity to address genuine business needs, attendees at a CIPD event have been told.

Mark Corden, head of apprenticeships at Specsavers, said employers should instead take the time and effort to identify their skills gap and consider how apprentices might help fill them.

Speaking at the inaugural CIPD Early Careers and Apprenticeships Conference yesterday, Corden – whose business was named overall winner at the 2018 CIPD People Management Awards for its work on apprenticeships – said focusing on the money would not lead to changes in business practice. 

“For us, it wasn’t about just spending the money as quickly and easily as possible. By reframing the conversation away from the money, we can instead focus on building future capabilities and nurturing growth,” he said.

“Where we’ve come from was saying: what are the capabilities in our people that we actually need? What skills, knowledge and behaviour? And can we deliver that through an apprenticeship? If the answer to those is yes, we know there’s a mechanism through the levy to pay for that.

“Instead of the money being the thing you’re trying to answer, you’re answering the skills problems and then you’re looking at the money.”

Corden said while it was time-consuming to go “back to basics” and identify skills gaps within an organisation, doing so would enable HR to present business leaders with a comprehensive overview of its needs. He added it was vital to get senior management to the point where they cared about apprenticeships, “because when they care they’ll engage”. 

A long-term approach and succinct plan, based on addressing real needs, would also integrate any apprenticeship strategy with business outcomes, said Corden, adding this was crucial for ensuring the strategy was more than a ‘bolt-on’ scheme.

Once the strategy is running, Corden advised HR to keep the focus away from finance and on tangible benefits to the business by promoting individual successes, making “storytelling a constant”. He also urged employers to review progress weekly or monthly. 

Corden acknowledged the importance of cash flow, recognising many employers were feeling the pressure to spend whatever was left in their pot before the first tranche of levy money expires in April. However, Corden said that while outsourcing an apprenticeship scheme was a quick and easy way to access the money, it would not necessarily get the most value out of the pot.

Research published by People Management last month revealed that half of businesses would not be spending some or all of their levy funds before they expire.

Separately, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently called for reform to the system, recommending an appeal process to give employers more time to spend money on existing apprenticeship schemes.

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