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Home » Apprenticeships » Are apprenticeships an untapped area of opportunity for your business?

Adil Hafidi

Associate Director, People Advisory, Grant Thornton UK LLP

Apprenticeships are the ideal way for businesses to train new employees, upskill existing ones, encourage staff engagement and retention — and increase productivity.

More companies need to stand up and shout about the positive impact of apprenticeships, insists Adil Hafidi, Associate Director, People Advisory, at professional services network, Grant Thornton UK LLP.

It’s certainly what Grant Thornton has been doing. “Currently, over 20% of our UK workforce — at all levels — are engaged with apprenticeships at any one time,” notes Hafidi. “It’s an approach that has attracted new talent to our ranks, but it’s also helped us upskill in new areas such as leadership capability and data literacy.

“Plus, we have been supporting and advising thousands of our own clients by sharing insights from our own apprenticeship programme journey. In fact, one of the best parts of my job is talking to clients about apprenticeships and watching them have a lightbulb moment when they realise that it’s an untapped opportunity for their businesses.

“We have partnered with a select group of training providers to co-design and co-deliver development programmes that support individuals to develop some of the most sought-after skills including leadership and management, accountancy, coaching and digital skills. We support our clients to retain their brightest talent and deliver against diversity, social mobility and sustainability objectives.”

A cost-effective and versatile recruitment tool

Delivered properly, apprenticeships are a cost-effective and versatile recruitment tool, argues Hafidi — so more companies should take advantage of the apprenticeship levy. This is a tax paid by those employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million that creates a ‘use it or lose it’ pot of money for firms to spend on apprenticeship training.

Grant Thornton always ensures that it taps into these funds, notes Hafidi; but plenty of other organisations do not. “In fact, between May 2020 and February 2021, £1.4 billion of the apprenticeship levy remained unspent,” he points out. “That’s money that could go towards training new employees, upskilling existing ones and encouraging staff engagement — and retention.”

Delivered properly, apprenticeships are a cost-effective and versatile recruitment tool.

Staff retention is a major issue, after all. The UK is currently in the middle of a phenomenon known as The Great Resignation, in which historic numbers of people have been voluntarily resigning from their jobs. Hafidi believes that businesses can use apprenticeships to offset this mass employment exodus because, from a retention perspective, evidence shows that apprentices are more loyal to organisations than graduate students – something that has borne in Grant Thornton’s experience of apprenticeship programmes.

“Our clients are looking at creative ways to address the retention issue by making apprenticeships a key pillar of their employee engagement strategies,” he says. “It’s a way to boost employee satisfaction with a breadth of academic qualifications — including bachelor and master’s degrees — and industry-recognised qualifications and development opportunities.

Turbo-charging career development

Grant Thornton is on a mission to do things differently, and has used apprenticeships to boost the diversity and social mobility of its early career talent. “University is not everyone’s preferred route,” says Hafidi. “Some people are concerned by the debt this entails and want hands-on, learn-while-you-earn experience.

“Last year we recruited over 400 school-leavers and graduates from all walks of life and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds into structured apprenticeship programmes — from Level 3 up to Level 7 — with clear career progression pathways and a mix of hard and soft skills that turbo-charge their development.”

Yet apprenticeships aren’t just for school-leavers, stresses Hafidi. Up to 92% of UK mid-market businesses will need skills that don’t currently exist in their workforce, and apprenticeships are the part of the solution. For instance, they can support the retraining of existing employees and those returning to the workforce after an employment break, and aid succession planning. “We have individuals on apprenticeship programmes who are above the age of 60,” says Hafidi. “The thing that all apprentices have in common — whatever their age — is a can-do attitude and a thirst for learning.”

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