Public Sector Apprenticeships

The last couple of months have shown us, more than ever, how critical our NHS, the police, local authorities and other public sector organisations are to our health and livelihood. In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits of apprenticeships to the public sector as well as some of the specific issues that these organisations should  consider when looking for a training provider and recruiting an apprentice.

Reaping the Benefits

Business across many sectors are struggling with a skills gap, where the workforce does not have the required skills that are needed, and this is a particular challenge for the public sector. As the baby boomer generation reaches retirement, these experienced individuals need to be replaced with fresh, skilled talent. Bringing in young apprentices to an organisation can also help to upskill older members of staff with the use of technology.

Public sector organisations also have an important role to play in reflecting and supporting local communities. Apprenticeships allow individuals to gain skills and qualifications without the barriers of having to pay fees, move away from home or conform to traditional academic settings. They offer a great opportunity to create a diverse workforce, including apprentices from minority ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities.

The apprenticeship reforms, including the apprenticeship levy and the replacement of frameworks with standards, also present the public sector with more opportunities. Most public sector organisations will pay into the levy, meaning that there is already a dedicated pot of money that can be used for apprenticeship training. There are also now fewer restrictions on eligibility, meaning that apprenticeships are no longer just for school or college leavers but are also suitable for older individuals, and even graduates, who are progressing or changing careers. With apprenticeship standards going up to degree level, many public sector organisations use apprenticeships to upskill their existing staff, as well as take on new apprentices. All of this new flexibility allows the public sector to take a more strategic approach to planning workforce development requirements.

Choosing a Training Provider

If you are part of a public sector organisation but haven’t engaged with apprenticeships before, speak to your HR team. It’s likely that you already have a tender process and procurement system in place. This more formalised approach to selecting a training provider, allows public sector organisations to maximise the benefits they can gain from the apprenticeship training.

Quality is always high on the agenda and a lot of this information is already publicly available, such as apprenticeship success rates, satisfaction ratings and training provider Ofsted reports. Public sector bodies also often need a great deal of flexibility in their training. Day release, involving the apprentice being off-site for one full day every week, often isn’t a viable option. More and more training providers are now offering a 100% work-based training delivery model. Whilst the apprentice still needs to spend 20% of their working time completing off-the-job-training, this can be done on-site, fitted around the requirements of the organisation.

Experience of working with the public sector is another key aspect to be considered. The needs, challenges and opportunities for the public sector are often different to those of SMEs and large corporates and having a training provider that understands these differences, makes things a lot easier and increases the chances that your apprenticeship programme will be successful.

Finally, public sector organisations should be interested in how the training provider engages with its own social responsibility. For example, do they encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds to apply for their apprenticeship vacancies and for job roles with the provider? Do they engage with employers, groups and individuals within their local community? And do they support charities or try to raise awareness of local issues? At the heart of every good training provider should be the desire to improve people’s lives and this ethos should flow through everything they do. 

Recruiting an Apprentice

If you are using apprenticeship training to recruit a new member of staff into an entry level role, remember that applicants are not going to have lots of relevant experience. Individuals may not long be out of school or college and this could be the first real job interview they’ve every had. Look for potential and enthusiasm, rather than an existing skillset. After all, the whole point of the apprenticeship is to build up the skills. The main thing you need to see right at the start is the motivation and commitment to take it on.

Try to increase the diversity of your workforce by encouraging applications from individuals who are from different backgrounds or have struggled with traditional academic settings. If your work area usually attracts more males or females, look at whether you can increase the number of your staff in non-stereotypical roles. And support your community by recruiting locally. Apprenticeship salaries are usually less than living or national minimum wage, and apprentices will often be reliant on public transport to get to work, so giving a job to someone who lives close by, makes it easier for them to get to work, as well as increases employment in the local area. You may also want to consider becoming a disability confident employer, which demonstrates that you have the confidence, skills and tools to recruit and retain disabled staff as they progress in their careers.

Finally, consider what salary you are going to offer. Whilst the current minimum apprenticeship wage is £3.90 an hour, we encourage all our employers, including public sector organisations, to offer more than this amount. Offering a higher salary means that you will potentially attract a higher calibre of candidate and also increases your chances of retaining that apprentice by demonstrating that you value the contribution they make to your organisation. Some of our employers start with a lower salary, but offer reviews at 3, 6 or 12 months into the apprenticeship, so that the apprentice can see the opportunity to progress if they are performing well and this, once again, increases loyalty and retention and can improve the success of your overall apprenticeship training programme.

Finding out More

Damar Training works with a number of public sector bodies, including many NHS trusts, the Greater Manchester Police, and various local authorities around the country. You can have a look at what apprenticeships we offer, or contact us on 0161 480 8171 / to have a chat about how we can help your organisation.