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Apprentices what you need to know

Want to train up your workforce?

Do you long to train up your staff and give them the skills to perform better? If you do but haven’t considered apprenticeships, think again. Current misunderstandings around apprenticeships mean that many employers are missing out on a huge opportunity to upskill their workforce at a fraction of the cost of the training.

Five things you didn’t know about apprenticeships

If your businesses pays the apprenticeship levy:

If your annual salary bill is £3m or more then you are required to pay the apprenticeship levy, equal to 0.5% of your wage bill. This is something you have to pay regardless of whether you take on an apprentice and if you do not use this levy then the government can use your cash to fund apprenticeships elsewhere.

However, many companies don’t have apprenticeship programmes because they are concerned about the time and resources it will take to set one up. According to a study by the Open University, employers are daunted by the amount of time and resources to manage an apprenticeship. This perception seems to be a huge barrier to unlocking the many benefits of apprenticeships to employers and employees alike.

It’s also preventing a lot of companies accessing valuable training that could upskill their workforce at very little cost. ‘There are lots of businesses paying into the pot but haven’t done anything because they think it’s too complicated,’ says Jo Ramsdale, HR Director at People Puzzles. ‘So they are paying more than £15k to the government in tax that is sitting there when they could utilise it.’

Jo has seen first hand the benefits that apprenticeships can bring to businesses. ‘What nearly everyone doesn’t know is that once you have used up your bit of the pot of the cost of the apprenticeship, for every penny you spend after that on apprenticeship training in your business, the government pays 90%,’ she says.

And because current employees can become apprentices, a business with only enough budget to train three of its staff might now be able to afford to train dozens of them, as they only need to contribute to 10% of the training cost. ‘You can have people doing management diploma level qualifications, accredited by the Chartered Management Institute,’ says Jo. ‘I’ve seen people doing level 5 qualifications, which is equivalent to a business degree. And you can use your existing team, you don’t have to recruit someone from scratch.’

Apprenticeships in smaller businesses

If your annual salary bill is below the £3million threshold, you don’t have to pay the apprenticeship levy at all – but you can still get government funding for 90% of the training bill for any apprentices you take on.

Training is shown to be highly valued by employees. A recent survey found that 90% of respondents would like their employer to offer training courses that can help them learn new skills. As employers can take on current staff members as apprentices, it’s an opportunity to get them trained up with a qualification at relatively little cost to you or your employee.

Apprentices spend around 20% (equivalent to one day a week full-time) of their time training either online, off-site at a college or another place of learning. This can be off-putting for small businesses who have less capacity to cope with employees out of action. However, balanced against this is the potential to bring new skills into the business, along with greater engagement and commitment from your employee who is working towards a qualification that will benefit them personally.

Attracting quality candidates into the business

It’s worth bearing in mind that apprenticeships are not restricted to school leavers, so if you’re recruiting you can not only take people with extensive work experience as apprentices, but also graduates, so long as the qualification they are working towards doesn’t crossover too much with their degree.

In fact, some employers find that by advertising their apprenticeships simply as jobs with a training package attached, they attract graduates or those with extensive work experience who might otherwise have self selected themselves out of the running by assuming they wouldn’t be eligible for an apprenticeship.

‘If you can offer a training package worth say, £12k, in addition to a basic salary, you’re likely to attract high quality candidates,’ says People Puzzles Managing Director, Helen Stenhouse, who is in the process of recruiting an apprentice to her marketing team. ‘People just don’t realise what training is available through the apprenticeship programme. You can do customer service, sales, management or even become an accountant. Employees can gain a degree-level qualification while earning money – and have no debt at the end of it.’

There are caveats, however. You have to be careful that your apprentice is gaining new skills, so you can’t train someone up as a digital marketer if they already have a marketing degree. There is other eligibility criteria, and it’s also true that apprenticeships are initially tricky to set up. ‘It isn’t easy to work out how go about it,’ Helen admits. ‘We had to spend quite a bit of time and effort on the process. But if the course is good and our apprentice works out it will be a win-win situation for all of us.’

If you would like help up-skilling your staff via an apprenticeship, or would like to recruit an apprentice, People Puzzles can help.

Call People Puzzles on 0808 164 5826 to find out more.


Joanna Ramsdale
Jo Ramsdale, Regional Director

Carole has helped me and the business massively and added real value while helping us shape the business.

Stuart Hill, CEO, WNDirect

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