What makes a truly great graduate programme or apprenticeship scheme, and why is it so important for businesses to recognise fledgling talent?
Kavneet Sandhu, Senior Marketing Manager, QA, sponsors of the award for Distinction in Apprenticeship/Graduate Programme at the HR Distinction Awards 2019, shares her views on what makes such a scheme great, and what they can mean for businesses.
What makes an exceptional apprenticeship or graduate programme?
A great apprenticeship or graduate programme requires a committed employer and enthused apprentice and in most cases will be supported by a training provider that delivers an empowering programme of learning and assessment. This means the highest-quality training from vocationally experienced staff, high-quality learning in online and classroom environments and excellent pastoral care and support. A three-way match of “role, programme and person” is the key to setting things up for success and gives learners the best chance to apply their new knowledge and skills right away in a real-world work environment. Ultimately, a great programme will lead to great long-term prospects for the apprentice and provide future talent for their employer. Whatever the starting point, we design our QA programmes to support career progression so everyone has the opportunity to take their career as far as they want to go – our learners have the opportunity to start a Level 3 apprenticeship with just their GCSEs and progress all the way to a Master’s degree (Level 7 apprenticeship).
What advantages does a such a programme offer an organisation?
Good-quality apprenticeships and graduate programmes provide great value to employers by giving them the chance to grow and shape their own talent in-house. Apprenticeships allow large-scale providers to utilise levy funding to support this, which provides significant underpinning support for these programmes. As an employer, you can leverage apprenticeships in a variety of ways: to find and develop local talent, reduce skills gaps in your business, grow your business with the skills you need, develop an entry-level talent programme, or upskill (or reskill) staff in in-demand areas like leadership and management or specialist IT skills. Because learners spend the majority of their time in your workplace, they can practically apply the theory right away to help your business. Most statistics show that apprentices are more loyal and often more productive than people who join through other routes.
What do you think are the primary barriers facing such programmes being successful?
The main issue tends to be employers underestimating the initial commitment and investment required to make these programmes successful. When people are new to a business environment they will take time to adapt, and the more support they receive from line managers and mentors, the more successful they are likely to be in the long term. Whilst the temptation is to focus on early productivity and return for a business, the best return actually comes from ensuring that apprentices and graduates have time to continue their studies and develop their skills – this is critical to good outcomes. Uncertainty over government funding and changes in legislation can create some uncertainty for employers, but working with a good training provider should help employers navigate this and get the most out of the government support available for these programmes.
How do you think these programmes will transform and develop in the near future?
One thing we’re really focusing on currently at QA is streamlining and improving the digital component of our programmes, making our programmes even more “digital by design”. Social mobility and inclusivity is also a big priority for us, so ensuring that our programmes have minimal barriers to be accessible to all – and ultimately, to enable learners from all backgrounds to carve out a solid, lucrative career path, improve their lives and act as career role models in more deprived communities. We’re also looking at how we can maximise the potential of apprenticeships for all our employers, to help apprenticeships work well for SMEs as well as for large corporations. We are seeing more graduate programme utilise the apprenticeship levy to provide ongoing development for their grads towards Master’s-level programmes. And we see vocational, higher education and professional training increasingly merging in terms of their offering to learners and employers, and we’re certainly building our capability to join this up for employers.
What does it mean to QA to sponsor the award for Distinction in an Apprenticeship/Graduate Programme?
It’s an honour to sponsor this HR Distinction award for Distinction in an Apprenticeship/Graduate Programme. We believe that it’s essential for organisations to invest in bringing new entrants into their businesses and that those who make this commitment and do it well should be celebrated. We’ve seen that apprenticeships in particular also have enormous power to transform the lives of young people, and highlighting this impact is a great way to encourage other people to play their part in supporting social mobility. We think that those employers who go above and beyond in their attraction, retention and talent development to help make their programmes the best they can be should be recognised. It’s our pleasure to celebrate the winning employer in this category as well as the many worthy organisations shortlisted. Congratulations!