10 March 2019

UKFast apprenticeshipThere has been much conversation around the apprenticeship levy this week. It’s a topic that I am incredibly passionate about.

Surprisingly, since the levy came into force, apprenticeship uptake is down. So, on the surface, it seems that the levy isn’t working. That was the conversation that I was invited to join on BBC 5Live on Friday. However, when you really consider it, there are so many more factors at play. Setting up a strong, valuable apprenticeship scheme takes time. So whilst it may look on the surface that numbers are down, there may be much more going on behind the scenes. There certainly is in our businesses.

The conversations around the levy raise some interesting points; some cynics are saying that the levy is like a stealth tax. In fact, it should be seen as a piggy bank. Training and developing teammates is a necessary investment into your future success. A lot of people have got a lot of negative things to say about the levy but if you look at the intent, it was never set up to generate tax, it is to stimulate jobs for young people. If the government wanted more tax, they could simply raise VAT, corporation tax or income tax.

The fact that they haven’t done so should make us ask why.

The money that goes into the levy, is there to be used to invest in young people. It’s there to give them a viable alternative to university; to help them to earn while they learn.

Why is it so important? I have seen first hand, time and again, just how valuable apprentices are to our business. We started with just a couple, then 10, then we grew to 50 and now we’ve recently announced that we’re on the lookout for 100 new apprentices. The fact we are prioritising them over graduates demonstrates just how seriously we take this at UKFast.

Learning a craft

It makes perfect sense really. If you are a young person looking for your new step and you have university or an apprenticeship scheme to consider, it’s worth considering just how invested your employer is going to be in your development. After all the harder your employer works to develop you, the better the outcome for both you and the company.

It’s a win-win situation for the employer and apprentice, however there is a caveat. It’s essential that you hire apprentices who are excited by the opportunity ahead of them. The usual rules apply, as they do in any other area of recruitment. If you take a kid who wants to be out and about, working in the fresh air but coop them in an office, they will whither. You have a responsibility to really find the right vocation for the right person.

We are lucky at UKFast as we have so many businesses developing. I think at the last count we have 15 businesses. So when we have youngsters coming in and saying IT isn’t for them, we have a raft of opportunities and areas where we can develop them,

We are breaking the stereotypes too. We have Rosie, for example, who is a brilliant up-and-coming apprentice joiner and every year we have more and more young ladies showing a keen interest in our IT courses.

Sadly, all too often, many businesses create what looks like an amazing apprenticeship or graduate scheme. Beneath the surface though, they are actually magnets to attract cheap labour. If you have tried taking on an apprentice but don’t have your curriculum and training material ready, or the right type of environment, you are bound to get a lesser result.

Kids learn at an incredible rate and it is paramount you don’t slow them down. This is one of the reasons why I am so impressed with apprentices compared with graduates, but I will come back to this later.

We’ve invested heavily in training and development, and specifically in the creation of our apprenticeship programme. We have four full-time teachers from the public sector and that doesn’t include our trainers and mentors. Our dedicated teachers are focussed on delivering what I believe to be a world-class apprenticeship programme. We were recently awarded the Princess Royal Training Award for our commitment here.

We’ve also been approved by the government to deliver apprenticeship training for other businesses too. So if you have a business and need help, or want to learn from what we are doing, get in touch.

Learning on the job

The difference between apprentices and graduates is getting bigger every year. Our apprentices have 40 hours a week, or so, of training. Some of that is in the classroom, the rest is on the job, hands on. They have a huge amount of responsibility from day one. When you compare an apprentice after three years in the business to a graduate after three years in university there is, in general, no comparison. I am talking from my own experience here and there will be exceptions to the rule, but so far, our apprentices are not only work-ready, their confidence levels are through the roof.

Often we see that graduates working on reduced hours to the volume they’d done at school have lost their confidence. They’ve spent three years in further education, often in huge amounts of debt and are now under incredible pressure to make their careers work. It’s an unenviable position to be in. It’s not unusual for graduates at UKFast to join teams that are run by apprentices who are the same age as the grads.

There isn’t a single role at UKFast that demands that you have degree-level education. In fact, I’d estimate that 45% of our board members don’t have a degree, including myself. I completely understand that for some professions, a degree is essential. However, for many, it isn’t. Learning on the job can be far more valuable. I’;d go as far to say, it can be invaluable.

As National Apprenticeship Week comes to a close, I am delighted that so many people and businesses are switching their focus to apprenticeships and valuable training for young people. At the end of the day, if you put the investment into these young people, you get it back ten times over.

Making a change

Nowadays we are running training days and events for our clients and their teammates too. Anything that raises the standard of IT and coding in the community is not only good for us, it’s great for the economy too.

We can moan about how tough it is without the talent in Manchester, London and major cities, or we can actively do something about it. The government has given us a tool to solve the “skills shortage” problem ourselves. Whilst it’s not a magic bullet and it’s something that requires considerable investment in time, just remember kids don’t stay kids for very long. If you bet on them, it creates a huge amount of loyalty. Our apprentices are set to play a big part in the future of UKFast.

Already 18% of our workforce at UKFast have come through the apprenticeship scheme. In UKFast Space, my building and interiors company, I’d say that number his more like 25% and growing.

If you have children, sisters, brothers or friends who are looking for a career, please do send them our way. We are on a major recruitment initiative and UKFast is an amazing place to work.

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