Where employers need to begin with apprenticeships

We invited a number of employers and experts to discuss their experiences of apprenticeships and what advice they’d give to employers getting started. With talks from Travis Perkins, Deutsche Bank, the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network, UCAS, and QA – if you missed it, here’s what happened.

1. Resources and support to guide your apprenticeship programmes to success

The UK Government’s drive and belief in apprenticeships has created a global exemplar – a country extremely well-equipped to deliver work-based learning which stands up to the rigours of industry. But with so many new standards, strategies being constantly reviewed, and regular updates to guidelines – it can be confusing to know where to begin.

Neil Weller at engineering firm Troup, Bywaters & Anders shared his experiences of navigating the apprenticeship landscape. The ace up Neil’s sleeve is – alongside recruiting apprentices for his business – he's also the Chair of the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network in London.

The AAN covers the whole of England, split into 9 different regions. Each has an Employer Chair and a Young Apprenticeships Chair, who work together to celebrate, signpost, storytell, and provide insight around apprenticeships.”

Neil Weller – Troup, Bywaters & Anders

The AAN hosts a number of events for apprenticeships, as well as producing case studies, guides, and resources to help employers understand and get involved.

Last year, the Apprenticeship Ambassador Network:
Hosted 1,500 events
Reached 115,000 pupils
Ran 1,250 celebrations
Published 250 case studies and updates
Advocated to 750 non-engaged employers
Volunteered 30,000 hours across its staff members

The Apprenticeship Ambassador Network website is a repository of information for every type of apprenticeship, every sector, guides and factsheets, monthly updates, parent and carer packs, and the opportunity to ‘Ask an Ambassador’ for personalised advice.

The Institute for Apprenticeships is a natural next step, helping employers to select the exact apprenticeship that they would like to deliver in their workplace. All 600 standards are laid out here, grouped by occupation so employers can start with the eventual job and work backwards to design the training pathway. Each standard includes information about length, requirements, funding available, and much more.


2. Setting up as an employer provider

Travis Perkins is the largest supplier of building materials in the UK. Despite not being the most visible public business, its network is vast – with more branches than McDonald’s and more vehicles than Eddie Stobart. Andy Rayner, Head of Apprenticeships, told us what it was like setting up as an employer provider for such a large operation when the apprenticeships levy was first introduced.

If I’m being honest, we were scared. It can be daunting when you read all of the paperwork, but once you understand the language, it’s nowhere near as complex as we initially thought. There is so much support out there, including the AAN, who can show you how to set things up. We got it up and running and it’s really working for us.”

Andy Rayner, Head of Apprenticeships, Travis Perkins

Identifying the opportunity to also execute some social good, Andy used his new apprenticeships network to drive change in the very traditional construction industry. The sector is responsible for a high percentage of the national carbon emissions, as well as having a very non-diverse employment base. The recruitment of young minds from all backgrounds would help to address some of these challenges.

The business has gone on to trailblaze three new standards for apprenticeships, which are niche and relevant to its business operations, and runs programmes at all levels. There are now branch managers who started out life as apprentices at Travis Perkins.

Travis Perkins' apprenticeship programmes:
Started out with 12 apprentices on a single programme
Have had 700 apprentice graduates from its apprenticeship schemes
Currently Have 1,000 apprentices across 15 different standards
Include 45% female apprentices


3. How has COVID 19 changed apprenticeship recruitment?

UCAS is much more than an application gateway for UK universities. It’s more accurate to think of UCAS as an organisation which helps young people make the right decisions about their future – which may be university, but also may be employment, apprenticeships, internships, or alternative pathways.

UCAS works closely with the UK Government and has been a key player in co-delivering the drive for apprenticeships, particularly when it comes to gathering feedback and insight from young people. Equipped with this information, the apprenticeship journey can be simplified. Which – as UCAS research shows – is a much-needed exercise.

Young people find the apprenticeship journey difficult to navigate

Information is widely available but widely scattered. It takes a concerted effort to find answers to all of their questions and solutions to all of their challenges, including:

  • What are the benefits of degrees vs apprenticeships?
  • Are apprenticeships as prestigious as university degrees?
  • Where are apprenticeship opportunities available and advertised?
  • How do I apply? Do I need a CV? Is there support for this?

When considering the support landscape for higher education vs apprenticeships, the playing field is not yet level. UCAS is on a mission to raise visibility, help people find apprenticeships, support applications, and help employers find apprentices.

Interest in apprenticeships is increasing but opportunities are declining. More than half of those interested in applying for university next year are also interested in the prospect of an apprenticeship, but a similar amount of employers felt unable to commit to apprenticeships in the immediate future. In 2019/20, the number of apprenticeship starts fell in every enterprise size band compared to the previous year.”

Rebecca Hopwood – Head of Sales, UCAS

Like many things, information is the key battleground

A third of students don't receive any information about apprenticeships from their school or college, and almost a quarter say that application information is difficult or very difficult to find. Of those who are already into their journey, 2 in 5 believe they would have made better choices with more information.

For employers which want to stand out in a sea of difficult and scarce information, students want to hear about both the practical and emotional implications:

  • Role – what is the starting salary, job description, typical tasks, and skills gained?
  • Requirements – what do you want in terms of qualifications, experience, and skills?
  • Process – how do students apply and when?
  • Future – what are the prospects and progression of your apprenticeship?
  • Proof – can you provide examples of your successful apprentices?
  • Social – what are the social aspects of apprenticeships?

There are three key areas to consider for employers. Firstly, students and their influencers like parents, teachers, and advisers are looking for information much earlier than you might think. Secondly, information and advice needs to be personalised and focussed on outcomes – considering what is right for each candidate. And thirdly, consider the pastoral, social, and cultural aspects of apprenticeships. Recruitment and onboarding needs to incorporate these."

Rebecca Hopwood – Head of Sales, UCAS

Students are increasingly looking for apprenticeships on UCAS Career Finder

UCAS Career Finder has seen significant growth in the past 12 months, as students seek out the scarce support available.

Career Finder is home to:
70,000 users per month
50,000 registered ‘apprenticeship seekers’ who get alerts for new programmes
600 employers using the portal to post their roles and vacancies


4. The apprenticeships market in 2021

QA is a training provider which has helped thousands of employers to deliver bespoke, digital apprenticeships in their organisations. Having trained more than 30,000 apprentices to date, including maintaining its programmes throughout COVID-19, QA is in a unique position to comment on what’s changing in the market in real time.

During COVID-19 there was a definite shift towards existing employee development, meaning employers were encouraging and equipping their staff to upskill rather than look to the job market for new hires. That also saw a shift in the increase of degree and higher apprenticeships as they were being used to develop senior skills.”

Andrew Erwich – Head of Apprenticeship Solutions, QA

Employers are also creating and focussing on social value initiatives, which has seen a rise in L3 apprenticeships and a major change in recruitment practices. Apprenticeships are not just about delivering a learning programme, Andrew told us. They're a cultural shift within a business – where there's a safe environment for people to learn and fail without chastisement.

There's a clear alignment to apprenticeship utilisation and in-demand skills

The rise of data and software development apprenticeships has been astronomical as organisations prepare for the future and recognise the market’s skills gap. This also means employers who have been traditionally apprenticeship-averse are now joining the race.

Anna Cooke has looked after Deutsche Bank’s graduate and intern hiring for more than 15 years. As an Early Careers Team Lead, Anna was heavily involved in bringing apprenticeships into the organisation, and found it simpler than expected but not without its challenges:

In terms of business acceptance, it was actually fairly straightforward because it does make business sense. Our technology department was very open to trying this new programme to stay competitive. As we started to create this programme, the challenge was in the education of gearing Deutsche towards apprenticeships instead of grads and interns.”

Anna Cooke – Early Careers Team Lead, Deutsche Bank

When launching apprenticeships, the initial pipeline for applications to Deutsche Bank was extremely low. It wasn’t easy – considering the firm had a very low presence in schools – but over time even as numbers began to rise, Anna started to notice that there was work to do in coaching and mentoring the candidates regarding:

  • their obligations in the application and recruitment processes
  • the role of competency interviews and how to handle them
  • hesitancy around psychometric tests and moving forward.

Anna was scheduling weekly calls with both candidates and colleagues, educating both sides on the apprenticeships process with support from Andrew and QA. But now, those first apprentices are ready to start and Anna has high hopes:

These apprentices are not replacements for our grads or interns, they’re another branch. Bringing new skills and young minds into the business will keep us competitive. Our apprentices will be on L4 Software Developer programmes, learning the banking and the technology industry simultaneously, with allocated buddies, mentors, and skills coaches from QA.”

Anna Cooke – Early Careers Team Lead, Deutsche Bank

Other elements to consider when choosing between the type of apprenticeships

Like the differences between graduate and young apprentices – life skills are one of the biggest differentiators

Many graduates from university will have been through employability programmes and career skills workshops, as well as being older and more experienced with the realities of life – like money and time management. It goes without saying that young apprenticeships will require a little more time and energy to develop.

But as apprenticeships become more mature within organisations, responsibility devolves to the more established programmes.

Those a year ahead offer support to those a year behind, which lessens the employer burden while naturally building leadership and training skills within the apprenticeship curriculum.