Today’s Apprenticeship and Levy report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown a 6.6 percent rise in the number of apprenticeships started in the 2018/19 academic year, compared with the previous year. This comes as wage growth in the UK reached its highest rate since 2008. The economy is growing and businesses are tentatively hiring, with our own analysis at Sellick Partnership showing a seven percent rise in temporary placements and a 17 percent rise in permanent placements over the past 12 months.
Yet this could all grind to a halt in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with the International Monetary Fund this week warning that such a scenario is one of the chief threats to the global economy. And a no-deal has just become increasingly likely thanks to the appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
But could apprenticeships help businesses to navigate the turbulent waters ahead? As we can assess from the ONS data, many companies already see the value in hiring apprentices. This may be partly down to the government’s Apprenticeship Levy, which allows companies to reinvest funds they contribute to the levy into the training of their own apprentices. But there are many other benefits to apprentices that business owners would be wise to consider when planning for Brexit and the upheaval this could cause.
Employer brand is everything
When times are tough, businesses need the very best talent working for them and this is only possible if you have a strong employer brand. The benefit with apprentices is that you have the opportunity to mould them to your own culture and way of working. Apprentices are often - though not always - in the first stage of their career and have not yet become accustomed to a single way of working. This means business owners can ensure they become the right fit for the company and represent it in the best possible way. The investment you make in apprentices is very often repaid in their loyalty and commitment to the business, helping you to create a strong workforce and equally strong company culture and brand.
Plugging your own unique skills gaps
While skills gaps in certain sectors like STEM are widely reported and known, your business is likely to have its own specific needs. Apprenticeships can help you to plug those gaps, as you are able to choose from a wide array of apprentice programmes to find one that fits your requirements. With Brexit already resulting in a loss of EU talent, there may well be further shortages in the months and years ahead. Businesses that move now to identify potential shortfalls could find that apprentices are an effective way to prevent those talent gaps from appearing in the future.
Maximising your existing workforce
A common misconception is that apprenticeships are only suitable for school leavers in the early years of their careers. I have personally dealt with a number of more mature and highly experienced apprentices who wish to retrain and explore a new career path. If you are looking at scaling back your workforce or wish to capitalise on the skills and people you already have, you should consider whether an apprenticeship might be a good fit for someone in your existing team. This could help you to retain talent, boost job satisfaction and ensure you have the right people in the right roles during potentially challenging times.
Investing in home-grown talent
While there are many benefits of apprenticeships to businesses on an individual level, it is also important to consider the advantages to the British economy as a whole. With EU workers leaving the UK at a steady rate since the Referendum, there will undoubtedly be staff shortages in industries predominantly staffed by European nationals. Investing in home-grown talent - through education from school level upwards and training such as apprenticeships - is an effective way to plug this gap and to boost the career prospects of future generations.
Apprenticeships can require a lot of investment in time and money from the business owner with no guarantee that the recipient will stay loyal to the company once their apprenticeship ends. Yet in the many years I have recruited apprentices, I have very rarely seen people leave after the first year. In fact, the vast majority go on to become loyal, trusted and highly skilled members of the workforce. In anticipation of the challenges that lay ahead, I would urge business owners to consider this option as an effective means of building the best possible workforce to withstand the turbulent times.
Simon Briffa is Internal Talent Manager at Sellick Partnership.
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