Fiona Macaskill, Head of Learning and Development, Credit Services Association (CSA) spoke to our Learning and Development Manager, Samantha Cooke about how we are using the Apprenticeship Levy to create more jobs and upskill the business.
The Apprenticeship Levy has been in place for two years and whilst many of the larger organisations may have seen it as a tax by another name, SMEs appear to be approaching it with more enthusiasm and imagination. I have been encouraged by how CSA Member businesses are embracing the Levy as a key part of their business growth.
We are seeing more growing businesses qualify as an Apprenticeship Levy payer as their payroll hits £3m. Rather than see it as a cost, they are leveraging it to bring additional funding to invest in their people development. One such member is BW Legal, a debt recovery law firm with 265 staff based at its Leeds headquarters.
BW Legal’s Learning and Development team embraced the chance to leverage additional funding and were planning for it even before the business qualified as a Levy payer. Today it has 20 Apprentices working across the business, where previously it had none. Six of those apprentices are doing the CSA’s Level 3 Team Leader qualification, and another seven new recruits have joined BW Legal’s growing collections department as Apprentice Agents studying the CSA’s Level 2 Collector course.
“We have always taken a proactive approach to learning and development,” says Samantha Cooke, BW Legal’s Learning and Development Manager. “So we saw the Levy as an opportunity. It was giving us a pot of money that we had to make use of.
“Our strategy was to make sure that each department benefitted. Today that means we have an apprenticeship in nearly every single part of the business. The approach has been to make sure that we upskill our existing employees, as well giving new people an opportunity to begin their career.”
This has meant a slightly different approach to ensure that BW Legal didn’t simply ‘bolt-on’ an apprentice but rather created a job specifically for the apprentice which allows them to take ownership and accountability for tasks.
“Developing apprenticeship roles that benefit our existing employees has been very important,” explains Samantha. “The majority of our team members moved up through the business as opportunities became available and they were able to demonstrate the right knowledge and behaviours for those roles.
“When we look at the most effective ways to develop them further we know that the apprenticeship route is ideal as they are able to continue with the hands-on working experience but combine it with off-the-job learning.”
Other organisations might have shied away from having apprentices because of the need for 20% of their time to be spent learning away from their job.
We know that it has proven to be a major stumbling block for some larger businesses. However, it can be detrimental to think only in the context of lost time as you lose sight of all the benefits this type of learning and development can bring to the individual, their colleagues and the professionalism of the business as whole.
Samantha believes that with the right planning and structure, the off-the-job learning does not have to have a significant business impact. “When you hear the figure ‘20%’, many people automatically think the individual needs to be away from their desk and normal duties.
“However, on finding out what this 20% entails, it includes many elements which can be utilised within an individual’s day-to-day role such as coaching sessions, 1-2-1 meetings, shadowing others, and gaining project insight which is a huge part of our culture and day-to-day activities already.
“When we break this time down weekly and have the support of team members and managers we reach this quota easily and our learners gain the development they require without any detriment their role or the business performance.”
Samantha, who started her career some 10 years ago as an apprentice gaining her Level 3 in Business Administration, appreciates the benefits of an apprenticeship on a personal level. “The Apprenticeship Levy means that we are able to give someone with no previous experience the chance to start at the beginning of their career and to give our existing people a chance to grow and do more. It would be a waste if we didn’t use it.
“In terms of the talent you can develop, and the range of skills our people are learning, we are seeing a massive improvement,” she says. “Whether you are helping people to start their careers, or developing colleagues with existing skills, the combined result is a workforce that is more productive, flexible and understanding.”
This article was written by CSA and was originally featured on their website.