We're not going to sugarcoat it, apprenticeships have come under fire.

Media reports talk of misuse and confusion surrounding apprenticeship programmes, going as far as to say the levy is acting as a "brake on skills development." Meanwhile, despite the fact that the overall number of apprenticeships decreased last year, the proportion of starts that are advanced level or higher has been steadily increasing, from 37% in 2011/12 to 57% in 2017/18.

How can both these things be true?

In short: it all comes down to you, the employer.

Before offering an apprenticeship programme, you need to examine your intent and think deeply about how you want to execute apprenticeships at your company. Because the truth is, apprenticeships aren't right for every company.

But are they right for yours? These 3 cutting questions will help you answer that.

1. Will apprenticeships really do anything for my bottom line?

Let's get straight to it. As a business, you need to know your numbers.

One of the most valuable aspects apprentices bring to the table is diversity: Diversity of background. Diversity of character. Diversity of thought.

Demographics are changing and the companies that are committed to evolving in step with the communities they serve will outpace those that don't. In fact, a 2018 study from McKinsey found that businesses in the top quartile for gender diversity at an executive level were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability and for ethnic and cultural diversity, there was a 33% likelihood of outperformance.

Apprentices bring a wealth of profit-driving ideas and experiences that would have otherwise remained hidden in plain sight. Not only that, 47% of millennials consider workplace diversity and inclusion when searching for jobs. If you're ready to improve the ROI on your recruitment efforts and win the with millennial workforce, apprenticeships are your way in.

2. Do I need to offer apprenticeships now that the levy is starting to expire?

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in April 2017 as a way of encouraging employers to invest in apprenticeships. But as of April 2019, the 0.5% you've been paying (that is, if you're a business with offices in the UK and an annual PAYE bill of £3 million or more), will begin to expire.

But that money isn't lost just yet—an astounding £400 million in underspend remains available to levy-paying employers. In response, the government have now made it easy for employers to donate up to 25% of their funds to other organisations of their choice, to spend on apprenticeships.

If you're ready to change your view of the levy as "just another tax" and start seeing it as an opportunity not yet missed, you could have much or all of your apprenticeship programmes paid for.

For the latest updates on the apprenticeship levy, check out the recap from our roundtable event, The Levy Runs Dry.

3. How much responsibility am I willing to take for my apprenticeship programmes?

Now we've arrived at the million-dollar question. (And yes, we know it's a deep one.)

One of the biggest factors driving apprenticeship reform is the increasing demand from employers for more control over designing their apprenticeships and making sure that funding for the most valuable apprenticeships is invested in the areas of the business that suffer the biggest skills shortages.

But are you and your teams ready for that kind of accountability?

At WhiteHat, we've worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes and have found that, without a doubt, those that succeed are those that have secured buy in across the organisation.

Or, as our CEO and co-founder Euan Blair puts it, "An apprenticeship programme is rarely going to work if it’s one individual within the company setting it up to hit diversity targets or to spend their Levy. A large part of making sure the programme is successful is stakeholder buy in, and having an internal sponsor in the executive team to support."

The only way to guarantee an apprenticeship programme is truly worth your while, is to ensure that everyone—from the CEO to the line manager—wants to see your apprentices soar.

The truth is, apprenticeships are NOT for you if:

  • You're skeptical about the importance of diversity in the workplace
  • You say you want an apprentice, but what you really want is cheap labour
  • You have no plan for providing adequate support for your apprentices

We've come a long way from the days of £3 per hour low-quality programmes and today's apprenticeships have a whole new look. Are you with us?

If you're ready to join the movement, reach out today on sales@whitehat.org.uk or dive in deeper with the 5 Questions All Employers Should Ask Their Apprenticeship Provider and make sure you get the right support.