Apprenticeship starts in England are finally on the upturn, with numbers for the period August 2018 – January 2019 up 10% to 225,800. Although this is still fewer than before the 2017 introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy system, it indicates that businesses are starting to seize the opportunities made available through Levy funds.
The previous landscape
Despite all employers with an English payroll of more than £3 million having to pay in 0.5% of that, only 9% of the money raised last year was actually paid out for workplace programmes. Large companies – and smaller firms which can also benefit without having paid in – are missing out on an important method of securing the workforce skills they will need to prosper in an ever-tighter labour market. Meanwhile Levy-paying firms have just two years to ‘use it or lose it’.
Supply chain companies may invest in training at operator level, but there are many other opportunities. Training standards are approved or in development for a very wide range of relevant functions, at levels from NVQ to degree level – some 7% of starts are at degree or equivalent level, and apprenticeships are certainly not just about manual, craft and trade skills such as drivers. Particularly relevant are standards for functions within the supply chain, from warehouse operative to ‘leadership professional’ at degree level, while standards are in development for ‘express delivery’, from sortation hub operative to manager, and for ‘transport and warehouse operations’ managers, supervisors and planners. There is a standard too for training in international freight forwarding.
Thinking outside the box
But supply chain companies should also consider other skills and training requirements – perhaps, lift truck/lifting equipment technicians. Data science skills are increasingly important. Packaging professionals may be relevant, and there are business skills requirements in, for example, procurement and supply. (For a full list of standards see https://www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/)
Critically, businesses shouldn’t just think of operations within their own walls. An important new development is that companies can now ‘share’ up to a quarter of their Levy ‘pots’ with their supply chain partners. That could have important implications for firms who need to ensure that more of their supply chain is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ as well as creating sufficient demand to make training provision viable in a particular area.
Strategic approach to training
The important message is that companies need to think about apprenticeships as a strategic issue. At Bis Henderson Academy, we can use our many years of supply chain experience and our understanding of the labour market and of training requirements to help firms develop a high level Training Needs Analysis. This would look not just at the skills that are currently in short supply, and at ensuring a succession when skilled employees retire or move on, but at what is going to be needed in the future to allow businesses to develop and grow.
We can identify and cost the outsourced training options, match these to what is available and allowable under the Levy scheme, and guide firms through the bureaucracy. We also work with training providers to identify industry training requirements that aren’t yet catered for.
We work closely with management and staff to get their ‘buy-in’, and to ensure that they have appropriate existing levels of skill and qualification to take best advantage of the chosen apprenticeship. We also help create reporting and assessment schemes to ensure that apprenticeships are achieving their objectives, both for the individual and for the company.
Supply chain automation may be coming apace, but this doesn’t remove the need for a skilled workforce. On the contrary, there are whole new skill sets that companies will need to succeed, and increasingly those skills will need to be nurtured in house. Taking full advantage of the Apprenticeship Levy scheme is a vital part of any strategy for increasing competitiveness.