Two years on from the apprenticeship levy launch, a nationwide engineering & facilities management business is celebrating 100 new apprenticeship starts in nine months since it expanded its apprenticeship programme delivery.

Less than a year ago, Integral UK Ltd, the leading mechanical, electrical and fabric property maintenance business in the UK, had less than 10 apprentices registered on its apprenticeship account being funded by the apprenticeship levy. Now, in partnership with training provider Remit Group, since September 2018, more than 100 apprentices have started on a programme, over 140 are now on levy funded apprenticeships with a total of 170 across the business on a programme.

With 17 offices providing both planned preventative and reactive maintenance to over 1,600 clients in 60,000 locations, Integral has a long tradition of offering apprenticeships to its engineering workforce as a way of recruiting and developing staff.

With a workforce of more than 5,000 nationwide, Integral had a considerable levy pot at its disposal but at the time wasn’t aware of how to use it effectively.

That has all changed and through its partnership with Remit, as Learning & Development Manager Tash Jenner explains, the business has seen the need to create a programme of development opportunities that supported the wider Integral business with apprenticeships at its core.

“Being a largely engineering business, historically, it was natural to use apprenticeships to recruit and develop our staff, but before the levy came in, we had relatively small numbers for a business this size and the plans were rather ad-hoc. The levy was simply something we didn’t know about or understand properly.”

“This meant that other than compliance and safety training, there were limited development opportunities for non-engineering roles and it’s only now through the levy and our partnership with Remit Group, that our wider population is able to access far more programmes than they could before”, says Tash.

Recent figures from the Government show that in the 12 months to the end of January 2019, employers had used 22% of their levy funds, which represents a fourfold increase from the 5% drawn down during the first nine months of the levy. Despite this, many businesses don’t know they are paying this levy or still see it as a tax and miss the opportunity to embed apprenticeships within their business.

“I think, initially, there was a mixed reception to the levy”, admits Tash. “The levy wasn’t known about and while people were excited about using this pot of money, a lack of understanding made them a little hesitant in doing so.”

From a standing start the partnership between Remit and Integral has seen a rapid growth in apprenticeship starts, particularly in non-traditional, non-technical roles. But within an organisation as large at Integral UK Ltd, this hasn’t been without its challenges.

“The biggest challenge was educating people”, explains Tash.
“With so little understanding of apprenticeships, the levy and the support requirements for colleagues on programme from line managers, achieving this level of growth isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.”
She continues, “But by having the right conversations, educating department heads and the wider business about the benefits for the team and the business, as well as the learner we have got commitment, not just from the learners, but also the line managers who want to see people achieve.”

With Remit’s support, Integral is now offering a range of apprenticeships to current staff including; Business Administration, Customer Service, Team Leader, Operations Manager, IT Infrastructure Technician, with plans for a possible Sales apprenticeship cohort in the pipeline.

With a healthy levy pot at its disposal, Integral has focused primarily on offering development opportunities to current staff, many of whom are more experienced workers. Through hard work and determination, the level of interest from this audience has been very pleasing .

“People love to learn, and the business population has really embraced this. We are currently going through a period of transformation and this comes with its own challenges, but we have seen that our employees take pride in their work and welcome anything that helps them deliver excellence to our clients.”

Across many sectors, apprenticeships are seen as critical to underpinning the long-term skills development of UK PLC. With a level of political and economic uncertainty still surrounding the UK, investment in apprenticeships can support any future workforce development strategy. The Integral apprenticeship programme is starting to play a key role in keeping the organisation one step ahead of the competition in securing future talent, productivity and growth.

Tash explains, “The workforce development strategy for the business is in its infancy. We are just beginning the process of creating career pathways for the various roles in the business that combine in house training with apprenticeships and other programmes that are accessible by staff. Apprenticeships are definitely a part of this, but a part of a wider picture for us and Remit are helping us shape that.”

“We want to maintain our vision for excellence in operations, management and engineering and we feel that through apprenticeships and the positive impact this has on staff and the wider business, we will do this. We are supporting our employees to achieve their ambitions by helping our clients to achieve theirs.”

Having experienced such rapid growth, the momentum this has created shows no sign of slowing up but to support the next stage of growth there must be a period of consolidation for the IntegraI UK business.

“We are continuing to push our apprenticeship journey and the stories of those that undertake them as we continue to educate the business about the benefits of apprenticeships. But because of the success of the programme to date, we now need more infrastructure to support it. With the level of activity and social media interaction now surrounding the apprenticeship programme, people are more aware of what we are doing and as a result the level of interest of working at Integral has increased.”

This additional demand means the use of the apprenticeship levy will only grow at Intregral UK Ltd.

“We came in completely fresh to the new opportunities offered by the levy, but now we are working hard to ensure that apprenticeships are no longer the exception, but the norm within the organisation.”