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Simon Hayward



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Management apprenticeships: how can you get leaders on board?


The apprenticeship levy is not just here to assist employees in the early stages of their career. It also provides opportunities for subsidised leadership and management development through management apprenticeships to benefit the more experienced. However, over a year after its launch, many leaders are still struggling to get to grips with the levy. How can we make it more appealing? 

The very words ‘apprenticeship levy’ are quite misleading, because the apprenticeship levy is not just for apprentices. It is also there to benefit managers and leaders. Neither is it merely a ‘levy’ – it contributes to your organisation’s very own government-subsidised learning and development fund.

Most of you already know that since April 2017, all UK employers with an annual payroll bill of over £3 million have been required to pay an apprenticeship levy of 0.5%, intended to fill skills gaps and invest in workplace-related learning. UK productivity lags behind other G7 nations, and widespread skills shortages have been identified as a major factor in this low productivity. Most of you already know that too, and are actively involved in trying to build the skills your organisations need to succeed.

Developing leaders and managers is a priority for many organisations as the pace of change increases in our unpredictable world. However, recent research from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) shows that 58% of employers feel middle and senior managers are unwilling to be seen as an ‘apprentice’.

In fact, half of organisations are unaware that funding is available for learning across all levels of the business. Just 57% of those eligible to pay say they are using the apprenticeship levy at all.

This misunderstanding means many organisations are missing out.

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.

Often, a good place to start is by engaging leaders and managers with the concept of management apprenticeships. The ILM research found that 58% of HR professionals believe middle and senior managers are unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, with 53% citing the “reputation and image” of apprenticeships as the main reasons for this.

This reluctance is disadvantaging many organisations.

What HR and L&D leaders can do

  • Position management apprenticeships as qualifications to aspire to: Explain why professional apprenticeships are relevant and valuable for every career stage.
  • Engage senior leaders: Ensure your senior leaders recognise the value that management apprenticeships can bring by aligning programme outcomes to business goals.
  • Engage line managers: Position the required 20% development time with line managers to ensure that they get the best out of management apprenticeships in their teams and overcome barriers.
  • Provide professional HR support: Align management apprenticeships (and apprenticeship programmes in general) to your overall L&D strategy.
  • Engage learners: Ensure that everyone across your organisation sees apprenticeship programmes as aspirational opportunities to develop throughout their careers.

Support from senior leaders

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.

Support from line managers

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.

Line managers can help 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% of their time at work on relevant activities.

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.

Claim your funds

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.

And when you do think about it, consider your leaders and managers. Management apprenticeships can be a valuable strategic learning tool for your organisation.

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