On 2nd May, WhiteHat and The 5% Club co-hosted a breakfast event to discuss the apprenticeship landscape and share the experiences of some of our WhiteHat apprentices, and their line managers, to offer employers valuable advice on how to approach apprenticeships.

The room was packed with over 50 HR and recruitment professionals, from companies including L’Oreal, Network Rail, Mishcon de Reya and Kantar Media, who came together to gather information on topics ranging from the UK’s growing skills gap, diversity and the apprenticeship levy, to individual experiences of apprentices and those responsible for them internally.

To start the event, Gill Cronin, Director of Operations, The 5% Club and Euan Blair, Co-Founder and CEO, WhiteHat launched into a fireside chat discussing some of the top line issues that media reports are increasingly picking up on.

1. Is the Apprenticeship Levy going or staying?

Both Gill and Euan were in agreement that it’s here to stay.

Whilst there are a number of conflicting reports about what the different political parties want to achieve with the levy, neither party is currently discussing how to get rid of it. Gill reflected on the number of higher level apprenticeships that have been paid for by the levy, being more expensive than entry-level apprenticeships, and questioned whether restrictions would be brought in for what it could be spent on.

“The apprenticeship levy is helping people build careers, giving companies the opportunity to upskill and reskill their employees, and enabling employees to move diagonally into new roles,” Euan enthused. “But companies, and the government, need to make sure that there is enough money in the pot to still grow young disadvantaged talent.”

2. The 3m apprenticeships manifesto commitment  

There are a number of articles about the government missing the target of 3m apprenticeships by 2020, overspending the budget, and saying they are no longer backing their own 3m apprenticeship manifesto commitment.

Neither contradicted these statements. In fact, they both agreed that it is quite likely these targets will be missed. The big question they presented to the audience was whether apprenticeship starts should have even been the focus for the target in the first place.

“People are focussing too much on the target,” Gill reflected, “it should be about quality and completion, not about the number of apprentices starting.”

“This is something we agree with whole-heartedly at WhiteHat,” interjected Euan. “With a national average of 66% for apprenticeship completion rates, it’s the quality of the provision that should be questioned. If the training provider doesn’t deliver then it’s a waste of time for the company, and a negative experience for the person on the apprenticeship.

Employers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more from their apprenticeship provider.”

3. “People think apprenticeships are for other people’s children”

One of the audience sought advice on a situation they were dealing with where they were using apprenticeships to upskill employees, “they have a degree and therefore don’t want to be called an apprentice.”

The conversation tuned in to people’s perception of apprenticeships.

“We need to remove snobbery in the workforce from existing employees,” said Gill. “A big challenge we see is how we can start to get parents to feed information about apprenticeships to their children.”

“What people forget, when it comes to apprentices, is that these are individuals who have actively chosen to take the path less travelled. They are hustlers. They have shown a huge amount of maturity and independence by choosing this route often in the face of resistance,” added Euan. “These are a talented group that will benefit companies hugely.”

4. The impact of Brexit

“We’re already seeing data showing that net migration from the EU to the UK has fallen and that more are leaving as a result of Brexit. Industries such as hospitality, the care sector and tech are already experiencing shortages with many predicting Brexit will stifle UK businesses and exacerbate the skills gap. Apprenticeships are key to helping the UK skills shortage,” summarised Gill.

Following on from the fireside chat, Laura Tomsett, Recruitment Advisor and Project Management apprentice, Christie’s, Monica Fizelle, Head of Trade Support and Kavindi Wickramaarachchi, Trade Support Analyst and Business Administration apprentice, both from Investec, took to the stage for a panel session.

Here are the key takeaways:

Launching an apprenticeship programme:

  • You can run an apprenticeship scheme alongside your graduate scheme without discriminating against graduates.
  • Don’t be afraid to lead the way in your industry when it comes to apprenticeships.
  • Look at re-purposing current roles, not creating new ones. Roles such as customer service executive, office manager, marketing and events assistants, HR coordinator and junior software engineer are all perfect for apprentices looking to launch their career.
  • Make sure line managers are bought in from the beginning to be fully invested.

Managing an apprentice:

  • There is a difference between managing an apprentice and managing a graduate; you need to be committed to their success, and that includes understanding their commitments.
  • Put yourself back in your shoes when you were first employed.
  • Apprentices offer diversity of thought - empower them to bring an idea to the table.

Being an apprentice:

  • Be proud of being an apprentice - it’s an amazing vessel to further your career.
  • Balancing the 20% can sometimes be difficult but it’s important to look at what you do in your day-to-day as there are a range of activities you can count.
  • Choose your provider carefully as you won’t always have a positive experience.