Employers are now highly incentivised by Government to hire apprentices and should seize the opportunity to identify and address any skill gaps – putting them in the best position to deal with changing environments – and to essentially gain real business benefits. While those that see the levy as just another tax will ultimately lose out and not reap the rewards.
In 2015, the UK Government committed to creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020. Degree-level apprenticeships are seen as a key part of this policy too. In order to fund this initiative, organisations with a turnover of £3 million plus will have to spend 0.5% of their annual wage bill on the apprenticeship levy.
The UKCES Skills Survey, shows us that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), management and soft skills are particularly lacking in the workforce and action needs to be taken urgently, especially in the wake of post-Brexit Britain.
EU workers are currently filling the skills gaps in sectors such as engineering, IT and construction as the UK lies in short supply. They also aid the healthcare sector with 11% of NHS staff not being British. The timing of the apprenticeship levy is more important than ever now with the status of European migrants not being clear for the future. The initiative aims to upskill and reskill the current and emerging workforce, with positive benefits for both companies and apprentices.
Current employed staff should also be prioritised to be kept up to speed with their training and work with learning institutions like The Open University to obtain the skills they need.
The levy funding provides an opportunity to train and develop new and existing staff of any age – allowing employers to review their learning and development budgets, how they are spent, how graduate programmes are built and delivered, especially with the introduction of higher and degree apprenticeships. Apprenticeships will give all people, especially older workers and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, a ladder of opportunity and in some cases a chance to retrain.
In terms of social mobility, having a truly diverse workforce is the base of commercial survival – and attracting and recruiting the best talent from a range of backgrounds will contribute to the wellbeing of any organisation.
Although the apprenticeship levy may seem daunting to firms, it does provide a genuine opportunity for employers who are willing to take it on board to supercharge and develop their employees. It should be viewed as an investment and not a tax, only becoming the latter if employers choose not to use it.
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