Let’s Build the Future

“Build the Future” could not be a more fitting theme for Apprenticeship Week, especially as COVID19 has pushed industry to digitise and adopt new technologies at a much faster rate. So, with the timely launch of the Peterborough Apprenticeship Awards, how do we “Build the Future”?

There’s more pressure than ever to meet the growing demand for technical skills and high-impact leadership. This makes Apprenticeships critical for employers who want to retain and develop talent, offering clear career progression and professional development.

Apprentices can be employed at different levels, from school leavers and university graduates, to people who want to further their careers or change direction completely. Even better, apprenticeships can upskill and retrain existing employees, not just new recruits.

The most important part is that employers can tailor an apprenticeship to develop the skillsets needed by the business to become more productive and competitive. It’s a win-win – a long lasting career for the employees who are fulfilling strategically important roles within the business, enabling its growth.

Employers are being incentivized through the Apprenticeship Levy Fund and the Kickstart Scheme, both of which have had barriers removed to smaller employers.

Unfortunately, the Apprenticeship Levy has gone largely unused in spite of it raising £2.5 billion by 2019-20 for funding apprenticeships. Lockdowns also proved a problem as Apprenticeship starts were down 45% March – July 2020 compared to the same period in 2018-19. The myth that only large employers can access the fund has been very prevalent, whereas businesses with an annual pay roll under £3 million would pay just 5% of the cost of their apprenticeship training, the rest paid by the Government.

In a bid to ensure more funding is used the Peterborough area, The Skills Service worked with the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority over the summer of 2020 to identify levy payers with leftover funds and smaller employers who could use the scheme to take on apprentices, or part-fund existing roles with similar efforts no doubt being made across the country.

Additional financial support came with the Kickstart Scheme in 2020, funding job placements for 16-24-year-olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment. Employers of all sizes can apply for funding to cover minimum wage for 25 hours of work per week for up to 6 months, and the employer contributions for National Insurance and automatic enrolment in pension schemes.

In response to demand, the Kickstart Scheme’s original threshold of creating 30 jobs – either as a single company or by pooling with other employers – was removed on 3 February. This eliminates a huge obstacle for smaller employers and will hopefully ramp up job creation.

Peterborough has always been an area where businesses invest in their workforce. Job related training has remained high, even with the impact of COVID. ONS data for October 2019 – September 2020 shows 22.4% of the city’s workforce received job related training over the last 13 weeks, compared to 18.3% in England and 18.6% in the East.

Although training remains high, the claimant count now includes a disproportionately high proportion of 16-24 year olds. This increase in NEET levels suggests we’re running the risk of squeezing out those with less experience.

That’s a huge long-term risk for communities and employers which apprenticeships can easily help address. As these training opportunities aren’t age specific, we can also upskill and retrain others looking to change careers or improve their employment prospects as industries adapt and whole new sectors and specialisms emerge.

Apprenticeships place huge emphasis on workplace learning, but you can’t create apprenticeships in isolation. They mark close working between employers, educators and training providers, and for The Skills Service, our brokerage and specialty is not only at post-16 education, but developing these relationships throughout the education system so young people receive high quality careers education and guidance.

Effective brokerage and collaboration between businesses, schools, and colleges will be critical to sustained, local resilience and growth. Research from the charity Education and Employers, has shown that as few as two quality interactions with employers can reduce a young person’s chances of being NEET (not in education, employment or training) by 5%, and this increases to 25% with four interactions. A huge improvement.

Apprenticeships can be a significant part of employers’ talent pipeline, but to generate interest in new and existing career opportunities in their business and sector. The Skills Service is continuing to get employers engaged with local schools and colleges.

This also helps the employer who can enhance their talent pipeline, improve brand awareness as an employer, and bridge skills gaps in critical business growth areas ahead of time.

Our Inspire challenges give employers a direct input into the careers curriculum. The enterprise challenges get groups of students to come up with the most imaginative solutions to real-life industry and customer problems. This gives students a taste of the business world as they develop their product and solution, create a brand, price point, and how they’ll promote their product.

On top of enterprise challenges, we also bring employers into schools to support activities like work experience, CV workshops, mock interviews, and careers fairs.  

Employer engagement is even becoming more formally integrated outside of Apprenticeships. T Levels were launched in September 2020, two-year courses that are equivalent to 3 A levels. These offer students a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on-the-job’ experience during an industry placement of at least 315 hours (approximately 45 days).

In Peterborough too, the opening of ARU Peterborough in less than two years’ time will give employers even more opportunities to develop advanced skillsets in the post-18 field. ARU Peterborough, a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority and Peterborough City Council initiative, is a new £30 million university for Peterborough. It’s set to open its doors to 2,000 students in 2022, with an ambition to offer university courses for up to 12,500 by 2030.

A future focussed range of Degree Apprenticeships will form a key part of the course portfolio on offer. Businesses are already being engaged to develop the curriculum which will emphasise on-the-job training and placements in industry. Peterborough’s Apprenticeship Awards provide important recognition of students’ achievements and of employers who create great opportunities and nurture talent. Locally, there’s a huge array of skillsets across different sectors, and a healthy talent supply can only be achieved by employers, educators, and training providers coming together. It begins in the classroom, but only by working together.