Making the Most of Apprenticeships: Augmenting Your Workforce

Sadly, the trials many businesses faced in 2022 are still with us in 2023. From labor shortages and skills gaps to declining GDP and cost-of-living challenges, these hurdles aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Companies must prepare new strategies for building business resilience and creating opportunities for growth. To do this, it’s crucial to create and maintain a highly-skilled, productive and agile workforce that can support the organization through economic uncertainties.

This is where tailored apprenticeship programs and apprenticeship funding can really make a difference. Since the Apprenticeship Levy launched five years ago, we have seen many businesses use apprenticeship programs to introduce new skills and talent into their workforce, but what’s perhaps a little more unknown is the way apprenticeships can be used to upskill and reskill current employees to augment the existing workforce and make them more agile.

In light of National Apprenticeship Week, it is important to showcase the different ways apprenticeships can be used to create a flexible workforce.

Bridging the Skills Gap

Skills gaps are a long-recognized challenge for UK businesses. Some gaps can be filled be bringing on new staff with specific skill sets; however, especially at a time where employees face uncertainty as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, it can be difficult to entice employees to move. As such, businesses should look within their organizations to understand where staff can be upskilled and reskilled internally.

While the wider business community can often fail to grasp the full potential of apprenticeship programs — associating it exclusively with school and college leavers — apprenticeship programs can offer on-the-job development to professionals at all levels of a business for workers of all ages. They can be an incredible method to bridge the gap where external recruitment has stalled or internal applications are lacking.

For instance, if a business is lacking staff in middle management, rather than searching for talent externally in a historically tight labor market — paying inflated salaries/recruiter fees and potentially settling for someone less skilled than desired — an apprenticeship program allows existing staff to retrain for promotion.

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Creating a Diverse Workforce

Employers increasingly recognize the strong business case for improving the level of diversity and inclusion within their organizations. However, current recruitment strategies and practices may be acting as a barrier to reaching applicants from diverse backgrounds. As a recent whitepaper from Robert Walters found, many employers persist in using channels for recruitment which deliver similar candidates.

Offering apprenticeship programs can overcome this barrier by opening new channels to a more diverse talent pool. Whether it’s parents looking to re-enter the workforce, the long-term economically inactive or recent graduates, an apprenticeship can create an opportunity for candidates who may never have applied for a role due to their lack of direct experience or a specific university degree. This creates a more diverse and robust work force with new ideas and ways of working that will ultimately benefit the business in the long term.

Designing the Right Apprenticeship Program for Your Business

When incorporating apprenticeship programs into your business, there are a few key things to consider. It is critical that business and HR leaders take the time to secure all relevant data on the current state of the workforce. This will prove helpful both for assessing the areas where action is most needed and for future benchmarking purposes.

For instance, data on the ages, gender and ethnicity mix will give you an initial sense of any areas where change is needed. Additionally, it is critical to take note of areas of the business where external recruitment has stalled and critical skill gaps are beginning to open up. This is especially true if the recruitment drive was needed to help the business transition to new ways of working brought about by new technology or by a change in direction of the business.

For SMEs in particular — many of whom may not have the financial capacity for an entire L&D department — finding the right training provider and designing the most effective apprenticeship programs will be essential to compete in the war for talent.

Nichola Hay

Nichola Hay
Nichola Hay is director of apprenticeship strategy and policy at BPP Education Group.

Nichola Hay

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