• A duty to embrace the apprenticeship levy

Apprenticeships are the lifeblood of our sector. Without fresh talent coming through, the heating and maintenance industries would undoubtedly grind to a halt.

They enable businesses to grow, provide vital job opportunities and can help to plug a widening skills gap.

However, apprenticeships are under threat, with numbers declining consistently over the last two decades.

The introduction of the apprenticeship levy two years ago did little to inspire confidence across the heating and plumbing industries.

The government tax on businesses with more than 250 employees was meant to provide much-needed funds for apprenticeship schemes.

Since its launch, it has attracted criticism from almost all sectors, with many claiming the extra expense is unnecessary and costly.

A report by HR body the CIPD found that 69% of levy-paying employers said it would not lead to an increase in funding for training.

But all is not lost. There are ways to make it work for your business.

The secrets to levy success

The levy is transforming the UK’s future heating and plumbing workforce.

Despite the criticism, it enables our sector to create better training opportunities, take greater control of apprenticeship programmes and delivers a richer talent pool in the face of a growing skills gap.

At Liberty, for example, we have invested in the future of our new and upskilled apprentices through the creation of the Liberate Academy. Liberate provides staff training and apprenticeships – tailoring different managed learning programmes to suit the needs of the business.

By being in control of the programmes we deliver, it allows us to naturally evolve in accordance with the business and industry, giving us an element of futureproofing.

Attract and nurture

Apprenticeships are clearly vital to the sustainability of property services. In order to grow, more emphasis must be placed on providing adequate training schemes.

Liberty’s apprentice training programme and the opening of the Liberate Academy last year places upskilling at the heart of our business model.

We can train our team to meet the standards we expect, as well as creating skills and employment opportunities across the communities in which we work.

Today, apprentices make up 4.5% of our 900-strong team. Being future-ready and thinking ahead are vital to our growth.

At Liberty, we have invested more than £156,000 on apprenticeship training since the system was introduced in May 2017 - 83% of which was paid into the levy pot.

This people-focused approach has enabled us to fund the learning and development of 53 employees.

Apprenticeships for all

While young people make up the bulk of apprentices, as an industry we must not overlook candidates of all ages.

For example, we recently recruited dad-of-two Treasure Sitole, 47, who was caught between queuing up at the job centre and temporary zero-hours contract to make ends meet.

Treasure successfully completed an eight-week work experience placement with Liberty before securing a permanent position as an electrician.

By investing in Treasure, he has become a trusted part of our team.

The future of the levy

There is little doubt the levy is here to stay. We must all adapt and find ways to make it pay.

We believe the natural next step is the establishment of more Trailblazer Standards.

Trailblazers are employer-led groups in common sectors rewriting the apprenticeship standards for one or more job roles in their sector.

The standards employers create will gradually replace the existing frameworks current apprenticeships are based on.

Once a new standard is in place, the outdated framework it replaces will be discontinued as soon as it is practical to do so.

By putting employers in the driving seat for apprenticeship development, the Government aims to establish a simplified structure of apprenticeships which provide people with the correct workplace skills relevant to businesses and industry.

Ultimately, apprenticeships provide a platform for people to develop careers, learn new skills and gain onsite experience and qualifications, and earn a salary.

They are vital to providing new job opportunities through vocational courses and onsite experience.

As businesses, we have a duty to work together to reverse the downward trend and invest in the skills of our future workforce.

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