Apprenticeships special: Skills are vital to build back better

The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is ‘Build the Future’. It’s a message that carries even more weight as Lancashire businesses look to their post-Covid recovery.

Skills and training will play a major role as Lancashire looks to ‘build back better’ in the wake of a pandemic that has inflicted so much damage.

Apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan said: “It’s been a tough year for everyone, but we want the theme for National Apprenticeship Week 2021 to be a springboard to look ahead to how apprenticeships can futureproof workforces and boost careers.”

The message is already out there. The pandemic and the lockdown have inspired more employers to look to apprentices as a way to build for their future

Alison Rushton, vice principal at Nelson and Colne College Group, says: “We understand that the pandemic has been an extremely challenging time for employers.

“We also believe that there has never been a better time to take on apprentices as they will play a vital role in the recovery of the local and national economy.

“Apprentices are cost-effective, career-minded and motivated. By taking on an apprentice, you are not only bringing in a talented individual who is hungry to succeed, you are also securing the future of your organisation through an investment you can mould and grow to your culture and needs.

Having the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals is vital for the long-term economy

Neil Burrows, director of Themis at Burnley College, agrees: “A former apprentice myself, I’m a passionate advocate and have seen first hand in my career what they bring to their employer’s business.

“They’re much more than an extra pair of hands. Themis apprentices have saved their employers tens of thousands of pounds by developing and adapting technologies and processes. They’ve secured their colleagues’ jobs by their ability to adapt and implement change. They’ve been at the forefront of providing personal protective equipment for our frontline health workers.”

Claire Shore, senior business development manager at Blackburn College, adds: “Apprenticeships continue to be a truly effective way to support business growth and develop the pipeline of new talent which is needed in every business – now, more than ever.”

The government has also made positive moves to help businesses access apprenticeship talent throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Claire says: “The government incentives for employers have provided much welcomed support to help this, with businesses benefitting from up to £3,000 additional funding for each new apprentice recruited.”

Kevin Martin Boles, head of business development at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), also believes Lancashire employers are rising to the skills challenge.

He says: “Through apprenticeships, employers are upskilling their best asset, their employees, and Lancashire will be more competitive because we have more people highly trained, which means that employers can really enhance their business reputation as they grow.”

And he adds: “The apprenticeship levy is now a huge success, we see more and more employers across all sectors, public and private, seizing the opportunity to upskill their employees.”

Sarah Hall, head of business development at Blackpool and The Fylde College (B&FC), agrees. She says: “We have seen an increase in take-up among large employers recognising the value of investing in the upskilling of existing employees, and providing opportunities for young people at the start of their career.

“We have also seen many larger employers support SMEs by transferring unspent levy funds,” she adds, referring to the ability for firms to use their levy to support other businesses in their network or supply chain.”

Businesses across the county are also working hard to ensure their existing workforces have the right tools to meet the challenges ahead.

Sarah says: “Apprenticeships are also great for upskilling existing employees. As you plan ahead, you’ll probably find gaps in your skillset. Apprenticeships are a great way to have people keep working while learning a new discipline to strengthen your business.”

Elliot Brown, account manager at Training 2000, says: “Apprenticeships are extremely cost-effective when it comes to training existing and new staff members and are also a great way to breed loyalty. A good team can make all the difference in a business and apprenticeships can aid in creating these teams. And with the current uncertainty, high calibre candidates are exploring apprenticeship options as well as degree apprenticeships as an equal pathway.”

The delivery of training has become much more complex during the pandemic.

Gareth Lindsay, managing director of North Lancs Training Group (NLTG), explains: “The pandemic has positively changed apprenticeship delivery forever.”

NLTG apprenticeships were delivered entirely on employer premises, but the training provider had already invested significantly in new technologies and started to consider different models of learning.

Further enhancements meant it was able to adapt quickly to the new landscape, introducing 100 per cent remote learner sign-on and “virtual apprenticeship” delivery.

Gareth says: “Our model continues to evolve, with all NLTG apprenticeships now delivered via a blended face-to-face and virtual delivery model. Employers have welcomed the flexibilities afforded by the new model and the benefits of remote learning, including the further development of learner IT, communication, adaptability and resilience skills.”

Linzi Monks, head of apprenticeships and employer engagement at Preston’s College, says: “Coronavirus has had a radical impact on us all, for apprentices it has been double the impact as their education and their employment has seen significant change.

“Across many sectors apprentices were furloughed, they were able to carry on with theoretical components of their off-the-job training, however they were missing the development of practical skills and the critical element of 80 per cent on-the-job training.

“Some apprentices were faced with redundancy leaving them with no income and limited opportunity to find another apprenticeship. In specific sectors apprentices became key workers overnight, forcing them to take breaks in their apprenticeship.”

However, Linzi adds: “Providers of apprenticeships are adapting their delivery models and patterns to support remote delivery where appropriate and minimise the risks of face-to-face delivery to apprentices that all work within different employers.

“Remote delivery is a positive impact, making apprenticeships a more accessible option to most.

“Apprenticeship applications have not fallen. The start of the 20/21 academic year saw a higher number of 16-18-year-olds starting full time education and an increased number of adult learners looking for apprenticeships.”

Lisa Kennery, payroll, marketing and HR director at Blackburn-based accountancy firm Pierce, says industries can be slow to realise that apprenticeships have moved beyond traditional roles and can now be used for a wide range of roles across a vast spectrum of companies.

She says: “Apprenticeships shouldn’t be seen as an entry level qualification; they can be used in all areas and levels of a business. They are a cost-effective way of hiring trainees into the business providing a theoretical and practical framework.

“Take our professional sector for example, our accounting trainees can complete their professional qualifications whilst gaining a level 7 apprenticeship which is equivalent to a Masters degree.”

Burnley-based +24 bridges the gap between employer and training provider. Founded as a digital marketing agency, it has launched its own training academy.

Managing director Dave Walker says: “Having the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals is vital for the long-term economy.

Apprenticeships create viable opportunities for personal and professional advancement without the time and financial implications associated with a university degree.

“We engage with businesses and explain digital apprenticeships provide employees who are expertly trained, not just in technical skills, but business skills necessary to thrive.

“Our data suggests that former apprentices stay at their company for far longer than those that gained equivalent skills through traditional education.”

  • To read this feature in full and access further Lancashire business news, advice and analysis subscribe to Lancashire Business View magazine or join the LBV Hub from just £2.50 per month. Click here to subscribe now.