The traditional view of apprenticeships conjures images of young trainees learning a trade from scratch - but modern apprenticeships offer much more than an introduction to industry.
At Sort IT in Wolston, Coventry, money from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has helped pay 100% of the costs of high-level apprenticeship training for existing staff.
New standards mean apprenticeships now offer equivalents to further and higher education qualifications – including A-levels, and foundation and Masters degrees.
Managing director Nick Marsden has arranged for two of his staff members to undertake Level 4 apprenticeships – Ben Steele, 21, and Laurence Vincent-Hunt, 33.
Ben joined Sort IT when he was 18, and completed a level 3 apprenticeship. He is now studying towards an apprenticeship in Network Engineering, along with Laurence, who’s been at Sort IT for the past nine years.
Nick says the apprenticeships will help his staff gain new qualifications and give his firm more credibility.
He said: “I’ve always taken on apprentices, and we’ve had seven so far, with all but two staying to work here full-time after getting their qualifications. So I already knew a bit about the value of apprentices – you can train them, mould them to work in the way you need them to for your business.
“When we found out we could get all the training paid for, I did have to ask if that was correct, I couldn’t believe we could get it for free. So we jumped at the opportunity.
“By using these apprenticeships to upskill my staff, it will give me better quality employees that have more knowledge and more training, and it progresses them as individuals too.
“I would absolutely recommend that other small to medium businesses (SMEs) look into this levy funding – it’s a brilliant way to make the new, refreshed apprenticeships work for small businesses. You do have to commit – the guys are out of the office once every two weeks for their training – but the end result, better trained staff, is totally worth it.”
Laurence said: “When Nick mentioned the apprenticeship, I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea.
“I’m self-taught, so this was a great opportunity to get official industry standard training to see if there were gaps in my knowledge that I could fill and enhance my overall service.
“It’s still early days, but with the virtual classroom, I can access the training when I can around my work, which is really flexible, and it means that I get an official qualification and a great way of finding and filling any gaps in my knowledge.”
Ben added: “I did A-levels in sixth form but I was quite against the idea of university, so when I finished, I spent the summer looking for jobs and I came across an apprenticeship with Sort IT, which I went for.
“I passed my level 3 apprenticeship about a year ago, then Nick came to me and suggested perhaps looking at a level 4 apprenticeship. I’m always interested in learning more and getting more qualifications, and this raises my value with the company.
“I really love the job, I’ve been here three years now, and these apprenticeships have helped to build up my knowledge. I’d definitely recommend apprenticeships as an alternative to university as a great way to get into a job.”
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “We want to create thousands of new job opportunities through apprenticeships in the region - and we are not just focussing on young people.
"Across the UK 71% of apprenticeships started in 2017/18 were by people over the age of 19, which is clear proof that becoming an apprentice is a real career opportunity for everyone, regardless of age.
“It is so pleasing to see firms like Sort IT making full use of our unique Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund and looking to take on apprentices both young and old. We have millions of pounds available right now for small to medium-sized businesses to tap into, and we want to see hundreds more people given the opportunity to do an apprenticeship and gain qualifications in the West Midlands.”
Cllr George Duggins, WMCA portfolio holder for productivity and skills and leader of Coventry City Council, said: “It’s good to see that our Levy fund is making a real difference to people in the West Midlands, and especially in my city, Coventry, where Sort IT has used our funding to help upskill its workforce.
“We’re keen to give even more people the chance to do an apprenticeship, whether it’s to upskill in their existing job, or to learn a new trade, and I’d encourage businesses across the region to find out more and tap into our fund.”
The WMCA agreed a £69m Skills Deal with Government in 2018, which included giving the authority power to transfer unspent levy from large businesses to non-levy paying SMEs to cover 100% of their apprenticeship training costs.
The apprenticeship levy is charged by HM Revenue and Customers on all businesses with a payroll over £3 million.
The levy money is held centrally by Government, and businesses across the country can apply for a slice of that funding to pay up to 90% of the costs of training their apprentices. After a two year period, unspent levy contributions are ‘sunset’ and retained by the Government.
Under the WMCA’s deal, regional organisations can transfer their unspent levy to the combined authority’s fund – keeping the money within the region, and avoiding the risk of it being sunset.
Contributions to the levy transfer fund are then used by WMCA to cover 100% of apprenticeship training costs for small to medium businesses in the West Midlands.
For more information, and to apply for levy funding from WMCA, visit www.wmca.org.uk/apprenticeship-levy
Caption: Apprentices Ben Steele (left) and Laurence Vincent-Hunt (right) with Sort IT managing director Nick Marsden