Apprenticeships: investing in staff

Councils have an impressive record of nurturing talent, with apprentice numbers up 10,000.

National Apprenticeship Week (3-9 February) is always a highlight in the local government calendar.

It’s a great time for us to come together to celebrate the work that council apprentices do up and down the country.

For an individual, a good apprenticeship offers the skills and experience to help them get into – or get on in – work. For an employer, it offers the opportunity to invest in their staff, address skills gaps and develop a new pipeline of talent by ‘growing your own’.

For our residents, apprenticeships allow us to improve the way we deliver services and help get people in our communities back into work.

Since the Government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy almost three years ago, it has not always been plain sailing for local government. Relevant apprenticeship standards often haven’t been ready in a timely fashion, training provision isn’t always consistent, and procurement is an ongoing challenge.

Despite this, many apprentices are flourishing, and councils have an impressive record of investing in and nurturing talent.

In 2018/19, local government created more than 16,000 apprenticeship starts – 10,000 more than we managed two years before and our second consecutive year of substantial growth. Four out of five councils had more apprentice starts than they’d had the year before, surpassing many expectations.

Councils have started apprentices on more than 140 standards, highlighting the wide range of services councils provide and the breadth of apprenticeship qualifications now available. We’ve done all this despite the headcount of the sector falling by 8 per cent over the past two years – testament to local authorities’ amazing ability to continue to adapt and deliver, whatever the circumstances.

Examples of innovation, good practice and the positive effect that apprentices have on their councils abound. Addressing skills gaps is a big priority for many councils, such as Thurrock, which is using apprenticeships to upskill its adult social care team, and Barnsley, which has used apprenticeships to develop a future leaders’ programme, while Hampshire has led the way in working with its maintained schools to get apprentice teachers in place.

Other councils are using apprenticeships to open doors to help people back into work. In North Tyneside, the council has invested in pre-apprenticeship programmes to help looked-after children and care leavers into apprenticeships.

The London Borough of Camden has piloted part-time flexible apprenticeships to help parents return to the workplace, while Birmingham is demonstrating that apprenticeships are for anyone – no matter their age or position – with new starters and senior managers signed up to its programme.

The apprenticeships system is not perfect and there are still challenges to overcome – from trying to secure more flexibility on how levy funds are spent to finding a solution to the upcoming switch-off of the popular Level 2 Business Administration apprenticeship, which accounted for a quarter of all apprenticeship starts in local government in 2018.

This National Apprenticeship Week, however, we should all take a minute to appreciate the success of our apprentices, and the value they bring to each and every one of our councils.

Please visit www.local.gov.uk/topics/employment-and-skills for more about the LGA’s work on employment, skills and apprenticeships. You can also read about our apprentice support programme for councils on the LGA’s website.

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