As we embark on National Apprenticeship Week 2024, it feels odd to me that many organisations, especially those who are subject to large annual apprenticeship levy payments, are still yet to be convinced of the apprenticeship model.
This years’ theme is ‘Skills for Life’, with the emphasis once again on young people starting their career in what looks like smart imagery of corporate organisations and STEM (science, tech, engineering, maths) subjects.
We could challenge whether this is the right focus for apprenticeships (as it isolates older apprentices and those who are already in roles), however let’s focus on the ‘skills for life’ element.
Do apprenticeships really provide this kind of transferable currency that will stay with us throughout our working lives? To answer this question we must, first, break down what an apprenticeship is and see what’s on offer.
Mandatory elements of apprenticeships
- The subject, or the main topic of the apprenticeship. A curriculum of skills, knowledge, and behaviours which the apprentices must learn and then bring together at the end of the programme as part of their end point assessment.
- Potentially a qualification which sits within the standard. Some apprenticeships have these and some do not. Some are mandated as part of the requirement, and some are optional as part of the provider's portfolio and offering.
- Functional skills – even if the apprentice can evidence attainment of maths and English through GCSE or O level certificates, it is a requirement of the department of education that apprentices still work to develop their numeracy and literacy skills as part of the wider government agenda in this area. This is quite the area of contention, but I won't be opening that can of worms today!
Supporting elements of apprenticeships
Additional learning and support that apprenticeship providers need to provide their apprentices include:
- Safeguarding to ensure the apprentice is safe, not just in the educational setting, but in the workplace and home environments.
- Wellbeing and stress management support.
- Pastoral support alongside information, advice, and guidance in career information
- General coaching and mentoring regarding the chosen vocation with the assumption that the coach or assessor is occupationally competent in this area.
- Digital and green skills (which are likely to have increased emphasis on going forward).
- Skills to achieve the tasks at the end point assessment. These could include designing and delivering presentations, undergoing professional discussions, handling question and answer sessions, demonstrating competence whilst being observed and the people skills which sit around this such as receiving feedback.
Apprenticeships aren’t the magic bullet, but they are certainly underutilised by many organisations.
Beyond technical competencies
As we start to break this framework down further we can see that there are a number of skills that learning and development teams will spend a huge amount of time, money and effort in developing in the workforce, which actually encompasses an apprenticeship. That is, as long as the apprenticeship is being delivered to the level and requirements which it should be.
Apprenticeships are far more than technical certificates or assessments of competencies; they are about enabling the apprentices to perform in their role, whilst not just learning, but demonstrating new skills and knowledge, and adding value to their job and organisation.
I’ve always described apprenticeships as ‘great learning and development, aligned to a job or occupation’. But reflecting on this, I should add to this descriptor, ‘whilst providing skills for life’.
In summary, apprenticeships aren’t the magic bullet, but they are certainly underutilised by many organisations.
Make sure your L&D strategy is taking advantage of your apprenticeship curricula, and you are cosied up to your apprenticeship providers.
Don’t let apprenticeship fear hold you back
If you didn’t realise that your apprenticeship provider is (or should be) delivering these wider skills and behaviours, then it's time to get closer to your programmes and delivery.
My challenge to corporate learning and development, HR and talent development teams is often, ‘you wouldn’t spend £100k+ on a commercial learning programme for data, engineering, customer service (add your topic here!), without clear budgeting, governance, stakeholder buy in, and clarity of what success looks like. So why do we do it with apprenticeship programmes?
The ‘hidden’ levy can sometimes be the reason for this, often sitting outside of L&D budgets, or company P&Ls, but I think it's more to do with the L&D fear of apprenticeship complications, educational language, and provider jargon.
The irony here is your apprenticeships could probably deliver a lot of what you are going after in the next three years and provide your workforce with some of those ‘skills for life’, so make sure your L&D strategy is taking advantage of your apprenticeship curricula, and you are cosied up to your apprenticeship providers. As I said before, they really can become your best friend!
Interested in this topic? Read Practical steps to transforming your organisation through apprenticeships.