There have been many critics of the apprenticeship levy, which came in at the beginning of this month and, initially, I was one of them. The timescale was tight, the design appeared flawed and there was a risk of ‘gaming’ where employers used the funding to rebrand pre-existing training as apprenticeships.
As a business with a wide-ranging apprenticeship programme this didn’t seem to be the best way to increase spending on training nor to offer more opportunities for young people. Surely we didn’t need government intervention in an area where we were already award-winning?
Yet, I have now done a complete 180 degree turn. Part of business nervousness is more about perception than reality, so we need to redefine what ‘apprenticeship’ means. The Norse approach is to reframe it as ‘People Development Standards’ and use the levy to upskill employees of all ages, in all areas and at all levels of the business including continuing to recruit more young people. It is an opportunity to invest in our people and our business – to grow our own, linked closely with our talent management programme.
At Norse Commercial Services we have taken the decision to become an employer provider, which will enable us to have more control over how we use the apprenticeship infrastructure to maximise investment, providing both financial and people benefits in the long term. I appreciate that this is not the solution for everybody. But the key is to find an approach that works for you – that maximises the opportunities of the levy, ensures any intervention is consistent with business strategy and claws back as much of the levy as possible.
There will be businesses who will pay the levy, write it off as an additional tax and wait to see how things pan out before committing to an apprenticeship programme. This is a waste. Not just of money, but of the people and talent that could benefit from additional support, learning and development – and that is not responsible business.
Tricia Fuller is director of Norse Group HR
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