City of London leading the apprenticeship revival

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With apprenticeships experiencing a revival, and the new apprenticeship levy now in force, on-the-job training has been brought into closer focus. Catherine McGuinness, pictured, the City of London Corporation’s Policy Chairman, argues that more high quality programmes with input from SMEs will push vocational training further into the mainstream and enhance its value.

Engaging in apprenticeships is one of many ways in which employers can acquire and develop the skills their firms need, while improving the employability of the younger generation. We are in a period of extensive apprenticeship change, and with the levy now in force, it is a good time to look at what is happening with apprenticeships and how employers are responding to the new landscape.

Recent figures show that 75% of apprentice employers say that apprenticeships cuts recruitment costs. And 92% believe an apprenticeship programme leads to a more motivated and satisfied workforce. These statistics show the benefits of apprenticeships and why businesses should consider doing more.

I’m proud that the City Corporation, as a public body, is rising to the challenge set by government to have 2.3% of its workforce as apprentices. That means we are recruiting and sustaining 100 new apprentices across the organisation. All City Corporation apprentices are paid London Living Wage.

We are working closely with employers to improve apprenticeship uptake in the financial services industry and provide a clear career pathway, with opportunities for progression, for candidates from all walks of life.

The Square Mile is home to 18,000 businesses which employ 483,000 people, with the vast majority of these businesses being small and medium enterprises.

We know that 4% of financial services are paying the levy. Since the levy was announced, we have heard more businesses begin to talk about apprenticeships and we have seen many of these companies express a real willingness to look at the opportunity apprenticeships presents to their organisation and the skills challenges they face.

However, many smaller companies who are new to apprenticeships don’t always know where to start.

At the City of London Corporation, we are piloting an approach with medium size banks and asset managers to test whether we can create a ‘cohort’ of employers all looking to recruit an apprentice onto the same standard.

Then the cohort can jointly purchase the training from a provider willing to deliver the training for a group of apprentices, rather than one or two.

Time will tell whether this is a viable solution for the problems faced by the businesses on the pilot programme.

But the fact that we were able to recruit nearly three times as many businesses onto the programme as we expected shows how widespread these challenges are throughout the financial and professional services sector.

My advice to any SME who is thinking about taking on apprentices is to be led by business need, not the apprenticeship levy. Link the apprenticeship programme with business strategy, focus on the challenges you face, like diversity, skills, succession. Work with your training provider on developing the curriculum to ensure training meets business need – and engage line managers. And don’t be surprised by changes in Government policy – apprenticeships are a moving feast.

Start small and engage the willing, if it works, sell the benefits throughout the organisation and don’t be afraid to ask other employers how they did it.

Let’s make apprenticeships work for all business.