Down to business
Colleges must listen to what businesses want if they’re to foster the best new talent
The Apprentice’s Tim Campbell on his passion for…apprenticeships
THE INTRODUCTION of the apprenticeship levy is creating new routes into the workplace to rival graduate intake – but we must change perceptions around the term “apprentice” if the government is to succeed in its mission to create the next generation of skilled workers, while also accelerating social mobility.
It is not by chance that, as the first winner of BBC’S The Apprentice, I am now in a position to champion apprenticeships as a vital and valuable route into the workforce as head of client services within our emerging talent practice at Alexander Mann Solutions. I’ve always viewed apprentices as integral to building a skilled and diverse workforce. However, just as the television programme is at odds with the traditional view of an apprentice, so too are the experiences of those undertaking degree level apprenticeships.
Businesses are resetting their perceptions around apprenticeships; these are no longer just for entry-level talent, funds are being directed towards upskilling existing employees to aid productivity and retention. As an immediate action, we must stop categorising an apprentice as a 16-year-old school leaver lacking a compass to guide them down a formal career path. Historically, some hiring managers have been wedded to the notion that graduates are always the best choice for emerging talent recruitment initiatives but this has to change. As one client noted, apprenticeships allow you to attract a different audience, not an inferior one.
The introduction of the apprenticeship levy has offered organisations an opportunity to galvanise thinking around the sourcing and development of talent. A recent survey we conducted of more than 3,000 senior HR leaders found that over half (52 per cent) are planning to use apprenticeship levy funds to bring on board new talent, with the majority of respondents (71 per cent) saying that they see the levy as ultimately creating a new route into the workplace to rival graduate intake. So it seems that the initiative is fulfilling its objectives, at least to an extent.
However, degree apprenticeships pose a significant challenge for employers, namely balancing the career development of the apprentices they produce with those who come through the more traditional university route. To ensure that apprentices are treated equally to, and given the same opportunities as, graduates, businesses must ensure that apprentices are not somehow disadvantaged in a way that perpetuates perceptions that apprenticeships are a second-class qualification.
Finding effective ways to communicate the apprenticeship options that the levy creates is not diluting or downgrading the talent pool, but widening it to include those who may not otherwise have had the means, or desire, to study at degree level.
Dramatic shift in power
Higher education institutions are keen to take full advantage of this new market but, in reality, many are not yet ready. One of the most significant changes brought about by the introduction of the apprenticeship levy is a dramatic shift in power in the supplier and consumer relationships. Employers are now in full control of funding and training and this may lead many to take a hard look at the quality of service they are receiving. Employers are using their new-found financial muscle to make sure that both further education and higher education providers deliver exactly what the purchasing organisation needs.
Looking at degree-level apprenticeships specifically, the education supply situation is in a state of flux, with many higher education institutions keen to capitalise on the opportunities that the apprenticeship levy is creating but they are not yet fully succeeding. It is crucial that these providers step up if they are to avoid losing out on valuable opportunities to collaborate with business and deliver the requisite qualifications.
As one of our clients recently noted, the apprenticeship levy is bringing about the most fundamental change in our education system in a generation. As businesses become increasingly involved in shaping apprenticeship delivery, the benefit will be felt not only by individual firms, but also by the wider UK workforce. Its introduction has put a spotlight on sourcing and the development of talent and how it can be more closely aligned with the real needs of organisations both now and in the foreseeable future. Tim Campbell is head of client services, emerging talent at Alexander Mann Solutions. He won the first series of the BBC’S The Apprentice