Apprenticeships are adding real value to businesses and invaluable opportunities for those who are willing to learn. Funded by business, for business, the new apprenticeship schemes are taking their place alongside universities to fast track careers and fill the UK skills gaps of the future.

In April 2017, the UK government introduced a new apprenticeship levy that would be paid by and benefit the largest companies in the country. The purpose of the levy was to fund a new generation of apprentices, to develop new training routes and foster home-grown talent in order to plug the skills gaps of the future.

Employers with a wage bill of over £3m each year must now pay a levy of 0.5%, part of which can be ‘drawn down’ by businesses to create their own apprenticeship schemes.

For smaller companies of 50 or fewer employees, the government offers to pay 90% of the training and assessment costs as well as offering a cash incentive of £1,000 to recruit 16-18 year olds or those aged between 19-24 with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

Recruiting apprentices of all levels

The apprenticeships of today are no longer the exclusive domain of the school leaver. The latest programmes include 400 routes for continued professional development for all ages and all sectors including:

  • IT apprenticeships 
  • Digital apprenticeships 
  • Business apprenticeships
  • Medical apprenticeships
  • Engineering apprenticeships
  • Construction apprenticeships
  • Retail apprenticeships
  • Hospitality apprenticeships
  • Catering apprenticeships
  • Customer service apprenticeships
  • Sports apprenticeships and more.

Funding an apprentice

There are seven levels of apprenticeship available that can last from 18 months, for an entry level qualification, up to five years for a degree or postgraduate qualification. Each of the seven levels of apprenticeship are allocated one of 30 funding bands from £1,500 to £27,000. The funding allocated to the company will be used for the training and end assessment of the apprentices.

The benefits of recruiting an apprentice

The real benefit of apprenticeships is that the employer can design the level, content and deployment of the individual exactly where they need it. Often companies can predict where departments will grow, or which existing employees may retire or leave. They can then recruit an apprentice and train them to suit roles that will need to be filled in the future - without needing to pay recruitment or headhunting costs.

Apprentices offer positive return on investment

Some businesses have previously been slow to discover the benefits of apprenticeships, due to a misconception that the programme will increase workload or cost money. The Centre for Economics and Business Research reported the exact opposite.

An apprentice actually generated an annual return on investment (ROI) of £1,670 (figures from 2013-14). Although many apprentices will have a mentor within a company, a full time trainer is not required. As part of the levy, the government pays for a training company or end point assessment organisation (EPA) to take care of the structure and assessment of the apprenticeship programme.

Award-winning apprenticeship talent

Winner of the National Apprenticeship Awards in 2016, Womble Bond Dickinson said: ‘There’s a real buzz in the office around apprentices as people increasingly see the benefits they can bring. Apprenticeships also give staff opportunities to supervise and mentor people - opportunities that they previously may not have had.’

Companies that have introduced a programme, have found that bringing in a younger generation of talent, with fresh enthusiasm and a willingness to learn has introduced a different level of problem solving and ideas to their teams. The bright young stars of tomorrow, who have grown up with the digital world and social media, can often bring a new perspective to business as well as a much-needed extra pair of hands. This reciprocal arrangement develops valued engaged learners into roles that have literally been tailor made for them.

Fostering apprenticeship talent for the future

Not only can delivering a talent pipeline improve the quality of candidates occupying roles within an organisation, apprenticeships can offer a huge range of further benefits. According to the National Apprenticeship Service, around 96% of employers surveyed had experienced at least one benefit from employing an apprentice. Their survey also revealed:

  • 74% of employers said apprentices had improved their product
  • 78% of employers said apprentices had actually improved productivity
  • 85% of employers said apprentices had helped to develop skills for their organisation
  • 67% of employers said that employing apprentices had improved retention of staff
  • 65% of apprentices stay in companies way beyond completing their training
  • 73% of employers said it had boosted staff morale.

Blue chip giant Siemens also reported that an apprentice’s average length of stay at their company was around 26 years! This is testament to the company’s commitment to develop and implement quality apprenticeships that are in a direct response to Siemens’ needs.

The company has contributed to 10 Trailblazer standards for engineering including a level 6 qualification in Power Electronics as well as a level 7 Power Engineering degree. This relationship between industry and education is helping to raise apprenticeship standards and ensure modern apprentices are ‘job ready’ at the end of their training.

A new ‘job for life’ programme

In a world where zero-hour contracts and a lack of stability have become commonplace, apprentices are finding that employers are keeping and developing the talent fostered within their company. Rather than finding a job, apprentices are forging ahead with a career path that has been mapped out before them, offering job security for the individual, as well as a made to measure employee for business.

Experience, wages and a student union card

Apprentices are also seeing the benefits with many bright students choosing on the job training as a viable alternative to university and all its associated costs. Apprentices are still entitled to Student Union membership and the discounts the ubiquitous card can bring, but they can also learn at their own pace in a supportive environment that offers them a good half way house between employment and further learning. Apprenticeships for business also result in widely recognised UK and international qualifications, while earning a wage.

GCSEs, A’ levels, degree and master’s degree

As regards the range of apprenticeships, the level 2 apprenticeship is equivalent to around five GCSEs, while level 6/7 will allow apprentices to work towards a degree or post-graduate qualification. According to a survey by the National Apprenticeship Service, around 17% of employers said they had decided to offer higher and degree apprenticeships to not only improve their talent pipeline, but as a way to retain their existing staff.

Apprenticeships, better for society

Also operating with a wider social remit, the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN) is a body working towards greater diversity and social mobility within the apprenticeship arena. The network ensures that apprenticeships are open to all and are inclusive regardless of race, gender or background.

Women are being encouraged into the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Candidates with learning difficulties or disabilities as well as those from disadvantaged backgrounds are also being encouraged to take their first steps into the world of work.

New apprenticeships begin every day

After taking a dip to 440,000 in 2013, apprentices in the UK now number over 2,000,000 learners enjoying on the job training. Thanks to more companies discovering the benefits of apprenticeships, the new scheme is welcoming more apprentices to the scheme every day. To find out how to recruit an apprentice, visit