Since 2017 and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, work-place training has undergone more change than ever before. And going forwards, we’re likely to see even more.

But how do you prepare for a future that’s potentially still uncertain? How do businesses identify and integrate the right approach to make the biggest impact for their organisations?

There is no ‘one size fits all solution’, but there are methods for developing your apprenticeship programme in line with your future business strategy that will help you to navigate what lies ahead.

To understand more about the opportunity apprenticeships offer your business join us at our employer discussion event The Apprenticeship Levy Two-Years on and What the Future Holds”  this Friday from 9.30 am.

Two years on from the apprenticeship levy launch, an award-winning tech firm continues to see the benefits in recruiting apprentices and expanding its Apprenticeship programme delivery. 

In a recent speech, Skills Minister Anne Milton, revealed that in the 12 months to the end of January 2019, employers had used 22% of their apprenticeship levy funds– a huge fourfold increase from the 5% drawn down during the first nine months of the levy.

But, one tech firm that was well ahead of the curve in utilising its levy pot was Softcat (LSE:SCT), a leading provider of IT infrastructure and a previous winner of ‘Best Employer in IT and Tech’ at the School Leavers Awards.

Following a heritage strategy of graduate-based recruitment, in 2014 the business adopted a small pilot apprenticeship programme to offer school leavers a way into the sector. Five years on this programme has seen 119 apprentices complete their training as it continues to pay dividends for both the business and its staff.

“As a business, we felt we were missing out on a valuable source of new talent, so initially, we created our apprenticeship programme as a way to attract, recruit and develop a school leaver audience”, says Softcat’s Early Careers Development Manager, Laura Sneath.

“Our traditional model of graduate recruitment was based around office locations in University towns and cities, but this wasn’t always possible, and we have a number of locations where we needed to target strong schools and sixth form colleges.” 

What started with six recruits undertaking the IT Technical Sales Apprenticeship has since led to five new recruitment cohorts in five years that has seen outstanding results from the apprentices who have gone on to receive promotions to apprentice managers, and deputy leaders within their sales teams.

In addition to the IT Technical Sales Apprenticeship Level 3 standard, which accounts for around 50% of Softcat’s apprenticeship intake, supported by Remit Group, the programme has also expanded to include Digital Marketer, Software Developer, IT Infrastructure Technician and the new Business and Administration Standard which is used across multiple departments to support a range of back office roles. 

“We have enjoyed the experience of bringing apprentices into the business. They are generally younger than graduates and we find that young people entering our business straight from school or college bring with them fresh talent and enthusiasm. They challenge how we do things, and generally keep everyone on their toes”, says Laura.

She adds, “In business operations and technical roles apprenticeships have been used to develop home grown talent organically. We’ve have seen many apprentices excel in the area of the business they join, but others have used their apprenticeship and skills development to move to other roles within the business, helping Softcat retain outstanding talent and increasing our return on investment.”

These outstanding individual performances and wider contribution to the business has prompted Softcat to initiate an internal recruitment campaign, to encourage more current employees, including graduates and non-graduates to consider an apprenticeship designed to support their role. 

Laura explains, “We have seen colleagues grow organically and develop within Softcat, but we have identified that with the support of additional qualifications, people could become even better in their current or future roles. We are now targeting a generally more experienced colleagues with a list of qualifications that we think will benefit them.”  

As a business Softcat has seen rapid growth with annual revenues growing nearly 30% to more than £1bn in 2018, and the number of employees soaring to over 1,400 across six UK Locations in the same period.

Apprenticeships are seen as critical to securing the long-term future of the UK’s digital economy. With a growing skills gap and the digital sector continuing to experience significant growth, investment in apprenticeships can bridge this skills gap. The Softcat apprenticeship programme is keeping the organisation one step ahead of the competition in securing future talent, productivity and growth.

We are working hard to maintain the high standards the apprenticeship programme has achieved to date”, says Laura. “We will soon welcome apprentices to our London office, which is a new site for us, but one of the biggest impacts the levy has had is the way Softcat has aligned its internal resource to accommodate apprentices. They are now part of the conversation when nearly all departments review head counts or the business considers new projects.”

Two years on, as the wider business community is starting to see the benefits of an apprenticeship programme, Softcat’s apprenticeship programme is ready for the next stage of its development. 

“We have seen some really exciting opportunities come in through the apprenticeship programme and this means we will continue to invest in our programme and spend our levy pot. We have invested a lot in the programme to date, committing resources to ensure we have the right sort of programme in place. That is why it is such a good programme,” says Laura.

This really is an important time for employers to understand the apprenticeship levy. Employers in the IT sector such as Softcat are demonstrating a real commitment to apprenticeships. Their recruitment policy keeps them at the forefront of innovation and technology, helping their businesses reap the benefits work-based training can offer. 

If you’re ready for a discussion about how to use the apprenticeship levy sign up here.