Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of the show with Lord Sugar leaning over a desk, jabbing a finger to dismiss some hapless (or more often hopeless) wannabe captain of industry.

While I am on the subject, I am also a massive fan of the recently launched, government apprentice scheme. Yet prior to launch in April 2017 one report found that 33% of businesses were not even aware of it. Add to this the findings that 87% of employers currently struggle to recruit the staff they need and a third find it hard to fill apprenticeship places, and you can understand the importance of this initiative.

What is this Apprentice scheme all about?

The government was keen to increase the number of apprenticeships. A reasonable alternative to higher education, when you consider that many graduates are leaving University with a debt of £50K and many employers believe that half of those do not have the skills that make them ready for the workplace.

The scheme seeks to bridge the skills gap by placing a levy of 0.5% on firms with a payroll greater than £3m. This generates a fund which employers can use to spend on apprenticeship training. The government also adds an extra 10 per cent in England.

If your firm is not subject to the levy – highly likely as it is estimated that 98% of firms are below the threshold – you can still reap the benefits. For example, offer a 16 to 18-year-old an apprenticeship and you will receive 100 per cent of the cost of the training from the government, subject to the maximum funding bands.

In addition, you only have to contribute 10 per cent of the cost of the apprenticeship training for those aged 19 and over with the government funding the remaining 90 per cent. And here is the really interesting part, the support applies regardless of age – we have staff in their 50s who are benefiting!

7 top tips – or the things I have learned:

  1. The road to training and development is littered with good intentions. Everyone is busy and something has to give. It is likely to be the time to learn new skills or study for exams, like industry standard CII qualifications. If you think your staff should be doing this in their own time, maybe a rethink is due. Get senior management buy-in and view it as an investment in your business.
  2. Build training into the working day. I have found that scheduling my own learning so that it fits within the office environment, on a planned basis is most effective. Also, the trainer can come to you, either on an individual or group basis. Group training is particularly useful where the individuals share similar objectives like the CII exams.
  3. You will need to source a training provider and get to know them. Invest time in researching providers, their specialisms, whether they have worked on similar programmes and what outcomes they have achieved. Fortunately, the government has set up a register of approved providers. Building a partnership with your training firm is crucial to achieving your objectives.
  4. Why limit yourself? You can also use levy funding to upskill your existing team and help them to gain nationally recognised qualifications. In addition, there is an opportunity to consider using the levy for long-term succession planning.
  5. The training available is huge. Yes, insurance is our business, but we have staff learning about everything from HR, to team leadership and business administration. Apprenticeships are available from entry level (Level 2) to Level 7 and even include degree level apprenticeships, a great way to attract young talent. Whatever your business, there will be something be that sales training or customer care.
  6. It can seem a little challenging to get started, but there is a lot of helpful information out there. For example, the CII has produced a helpful guide which you can read here.
  7. Use it or lose it. If you don’t use your levy contributions or the government top-up you lose them, potentially to another employer. The government has set an ambitious target of 3 million apprentices by 2020. This has resulted in a series of incentives for employers, most notably £1,000 for enrolling a 16-18 year-old and the removal on National Insurance contributions for under 25’s. This NI saving equates to approximately £2,000 annually for a member of staff earning £25,000.

In summary, I think businesses who do not embrace the apprentice scheme are missing out on a huge opportunity – one that would have Lord Sugar pointing a finger.

This article was written by the Company Secretary Amber Worsey.

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