Take a fresh look at apprenticeships

If there’s one message I would like every boss, manager and human resources executive to hear it’s this: apprenticeships are for everyone, not just teenagers. You can be 60 years old and enrol, nor is there a cap on the level of expertise. Advanced apprenticeships go way beyond basic training and right up to post-graduate degree-level training. Apprenticeships really are that versatile and designed to meet employers’ upskilling and reskilling needs.

Sadly this is news to many. There’s a belief that apprenticeships are just for school-leavers as an alternative to university or subsidised training for entry-level jobs. And while these basic courses – level 2 apprenticeships are equivalent to GCSEs and advanced apprenticeships or level 3 are equivalent to A levels – are great, they are only a tiny part of the picture.

What I’m talking about are the level 4, 5, 6, and 7 apprenticeships, which run all the way from foundation degrees to a Master’s. The message is important because apprenticeships are becoming a mainstream way for businesses to train their staff. Instead of sporadic CPD (continuing professional development) courses or taking a year off for an MBA, an apprenticeship provides on-the-job learning. There’s a clear goal to work for over the long term, and it means the courses are uniquely convenient and practical.

While my job is managing director, I am currently undertaking a level 4 apprenticeship in information systems business analysis. It is supporting me to analyse our business processes in a systematic way, focusing on how to improve quality and manage risk, while introducing new technologies and ways of working to maximise impact on the business.

These are profoundly useful commercial skills and more than a third of my staff are enrolled in higher-level apprenticeships, including nearly all our senior management team. Our projects are having a huge impact on how we run our business, delivering significant cost-savings and productivity gains.


The variety of apprenticeships is exploding. Over the next couple of years, people will be able to qualify as an accountant, nurse or teacher through work-based learning. For business, this means the need to develop short, medium and long-term strategies to take advantage of these opportunities as school-leavers choose the work-based route.

To get started, think about job roles where it is hard to recruit staff with the ready-made skills levels you are looking for or investigate areas where you need to expand the skills and knowledge of staff to meet the changing needs of your business, such as data analysis, project management or tax technician. Also think about how you are finding your raw talent at entry level and how many great young people would rather train at work than go to university.

There are two extra reasons to be excited by apprenticeships. The first is the ease of offering the training to staff. A provider like my own company, Smart Training, makes it incredibly easy to get your staff started. We run courses across England with small groups providing face-to-face teaching combined with distance learning and practical activities to complete at work alongside theoretical assignments.

The second reason is cost. The prices of MBAs and other professional tuition can be eyewatering; not so with an apprenticeship. For larger companies the cost should be covered by the new apprenticeship levy, which mandates that 0.5 per cent of the annual wage bill be used to fund apprenticeship training. The government adds an extra 10 per cent to sweeten the deal. Small companies benefit too with 90 per cent of the training costs paid by the government.

I frame apprenticeships by asking what type of enterprise you want to be. High performers are the ones with an “always learning” culture, everyone from the chief executive to the junior assistant is engaged in qualifications. Self-improvement is standard across the organisation and apprenticeships are a great way to achieve this. The courses are there. The funding is in place. All we need is for companies to shake off their dated conception of apprenticeships and start making the most of this incredible way to learn.

To find out more please visit our website at www.smart-training.com