• Coral McFarlane
Comments: Why the Apprenticeship Levy is an important talent investment tool

The hotly-debated Apprenticeship Levy has once again hit the headlines following research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The Levy was brought in to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 but it is clear that there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the initiative and only 10 months down the line there are increasing calls for the Levy to be urgently reviewed.

According to the CIPD’s research, only 20 per cent of the employers that pay the levy support the system. Nineteen per cent do not plan to use it to develop apprenticeships and 53 per cent want it to be replaced with a broader training tariff.

Some employers have complained that the Levy is too complicated, others point to a delay in certifying training programmes that has dampened interest. While Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council and Deputy Mayor for Business and Economy, has called for the two-year time limit for employers to access the levy to be extended until the right courses have been accredited.

Through the cloud of confusion and debate it is easy to overlook the fact that the Levy is an important talent investment tool.

Often employers are not aware of the range of occupations and levels covered.  While lower-level 16 to 18 apprenticeships are important, there are also a large range of higher-level apprenticeships on offer which are perfect for up-skilling existing teams.

For instance we offer a four-year Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship and our colleagues at The Manufacturing Institute are about to launch a Masters Apprenticeship in Manufacturing Leadership.

At The Growth Company we have more than 70 apprenticeships - ranging from construction to HR - on offer or in our pipeline, and our skills team are seeing trends emerge in the uptake of our apprenticeships, with higher level apprenticeships in project management, HR and financial services proving very popular.

Demand for leadership and management apprenticeships has shot up 400% - in response to Levy paying companies training people in-house. While SME's are concerned about paying 10% towards the apprenticeships they once got for free.

The Levy may not be perfect and we recognise calls for reform. But while we welcome any improvements to the existing system, our message to employers would be not to delay when there are real benefits on offer for their business and staff.

As one of the largest providers of skills and training in the UK, and with almost 30 years’ experience, part of our role is to use our insight and expertise to help a range of employers to navigate them through these often choppy waters.

Part of that support might be helping them to understand how to invest their Levy contributions effectively as part of a long-term workforce development strategy, or advising a small employer looking to take on their first apprentice.

Our Free Apprenticeship Growth Service, for example, is targeted at helping SMEs to understand the benefits of taking an apprentice and we’ve had more than 100 SME apprenticeship starts so far through this programme.

We’ve had more success with the Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Company (GMAC). This unique partnership between The Growth Company and 8 colleges across Greater Manchester has now helped more than 300 teenagers start an apprenticeship since it was launched in 2016.

For larger levy-paying employers we have a Levy team that can offer specialist help and advice. And we’re proud to be working with some national and international companies who want to get the very best out of their Levy spend.

Apprenticeships continue to be a vital part of addressing workforce development, boosting productivity and supporting inclusive growth, particularly as we seek to meet the skills challenges presented by a rapidly changing post-Brexit world and Industry 4.0. As the debate around the effectiveness of the Levy rumbles on, we continue to help employers demystify the Levy and provide practical guidance and expertise.

Jayne Worthington 
Managing Director, The Growth Company Education and Skills