Taking part in an apprenticeship can help secure the dream job for many students, while providing them with experience of a professional environment. Following the UK Government’s pledge to commit to 3m apprenticeship starts in England by 2020, Jade Burke speaks to some experts and PA Life readers on how the industry can make the most of these schemes
Breaking into any industry can be a tough task with so much competition from candidates in the same field, so having the opportunity to take part in an apprenticeship can be invaluable. Students quite often seek training with an employer to prepare them for the working world, and the PA sector is no different.
Currently the UK Government offers an Apprenticeship Levy for employers to fund new apprenticeship schemes. In England the control of the funding is given to employers through the Digital Apprenticeship Service. The levy is then charged at a rate of 0.5 per cent of an employer’s paybill; each employer then receives an allowance of £15,000 to offset against their levy payment.
First introduced in April 2017, the Levy has proven to be a success and now that the Government has committed to an additional three million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020, it will undoubtedly help to support new training by putting employers at ‘the centre of the system’.
“The Apprenticeship Levy is great, because it forces companies to do what they know they should be doing, which is to invest in sustained programmes of upskilling for their staff and to hire in fresh talent,” Ben Rowland, co-founder of Arch Apprentices, tells PA Life.
“We’re seeing hundreds of businesses benefitting from smart deployment of their Levy funds – from productivity uplifts, to improved retention and to greater morale. Many are using it specifically to meet the objective of addressing their digital skills gap.”
With over three million staff in administrative roles in the UK, which encompasses PAs, EAs, office managers, secretaries and admin assistants, it’s clear that the need for more training and apprenticeship schemes is more crucial than ever.
Andrew Jardine, general manager of the Institute of Administrative Management (IAM), explains: “The strength of an apprenticeship is that is covers a fully rounded set of knowledge, skills and behaviours. This is of particular value in administration since every job description has ‘ad hoc tasks as defined by management’. Increasingly the ad hoc tasks become the norm so the wider the skillset for an administrator the more employable they become.”
By offering work experience to fresh talent, employees will be able to benefit from skilled staff hungry to learn more about their role, while also acquiring relevant skills to a professional environment. On the other hand, experienced staff will be able to take advantage of their company’s offering if they are looking to upskill or even change positions.
Jardine enthuses: “For already established, experienced PAs and administrators, apprenticeships also offer an opportunity to keep skills current or to broaden their skills if they are looking to change roles.
“There are national qualifications and highly-thought of training programmes as well, but an apprenticeship is often a better option in terms of the breadth of subjects covered and the likelihood of employer investment.”
“For already experienced PAs and administrators, apprenticeships also offer an opportunity to keep skills current.”
Andrew Jardine, IAM
With many employees seeking more training, the opportunity to take part in an apprenticeship can be the difference between a staff member leaving their job role to find alternative training or remain and take advantage of the opportunities.
As Rowland explains: “One of the most common causes of dissatisfaction at work is a lack of training, and one of the most common features of corporate training is that it is scatter-shot and incoherent. Apprenticeships are brilliant because they are sustained for at least 12 months and they are a coherent programme blending on the job and off the job with mentoring and coaching.”
Getting your foot in the door
Quite often, students are encouraged to attend university, but this isn’t always an option due to the considerable costs to gain a degree. This is where an apprenticeship scheme can make a huge difference for school-leavers looking to get their foot on the career ladder.
Elizabeth Mendes Da Silva, PA at Barclays, concurs: “I know from a personal perspective that I nearly didn’t attend university because of the cost factor, so something like this helps solve that strain, as it is a real job with a salary and a real genuine qualification at the end of it.
“There are some expertise that can simply not be taught in the classroom, and can only be learnt through the job experience, which is what apprenticeships provide.”
Some industries are notoriously difficult to break into, and by giving students the chance to find work experience without the pressure of gaining a university degree, chances are that the apprenticeship they find will no doubt set them up for a future in their dream role.
Sally Russell, PA at the Greater London Authority, adds: “School leavers should have the option to be able to apply for apprenticeships, college or university. Some find it easier to learn ‘on the job’ and the experience they get as an apprentice is invaluable.”
Both Barclays and the Greater London Authority (GLA) offer different types of work experience. Barclays offers three main types; traineeships, foundation apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships. Apprentices could be unemployed, changing careers, retired, have a disability or even work within the bank, meaning absolutely no one is exempt from this scheme. Meanwhile, the GLA set up a scheme a few years ago where applicants can join through Outsource for a year’s apprenticeship.
“In my direct team for instance, three of my colleagues came off the back of the graduate apprenticeship program, and have been promoted steadily year-on-year, so I have seen this work first-hand,” reveals Da Silva.
“There are some expertise that can not be taught in the classroom, and can only be learnt through the job experience.”
Elizabeth Mendes Da Silva, Barclays
Altering the Levy
Despite the Levy proving to be a positive scheme for many employers, 53 per cent have expressed their desire to replace the Apprenticeship Levy with a Training Levy. Many have revealed that the scheme isn’t adding value to training and would like to see it change. However, Rowland warns that the alteration could cause more harm than good.
“Because definitions of training are so broad, there would be a real risk of the levy being used for activities that aren’t about what the economy needs, which is sustained and deep skilling and upskilling,” he adds.
“Once confidence has grown around the current apprenticeship structure, then would be the time to look at whether actually targeted changes would be sensible. And let’s not forget, re-branding it as a Training Levy will risk completely losing any focus on getting young people into productive roles as soon as possible.”
Whatever the Government decides for the future regarding the Levy, any scheme that offers such training can only be a good thing for students looking to gain crucial experience in their desired job. Plus, with so many administrative roles available there is even more reason for employers to offer apprenticeships designed for assistants.
“The first thing would be for employers to get together to apply and create a new apprenticeship programme for PAs and EAs. Secondly, look at the wider business and see where the gaps are – do you need more digital marketing skills or IT technicians?” concludes Rowland.
“Is there a need to develop new software, analyse data or produce content? There are numerous apprenticeship standards available now which can help you meet these needs and will provide real motivation and focus for your employees.”