Skills for the future

Apprentices have played a key role in local government’s response to the pandemic.

National Apprenticeship Week (8-12 February) is a time when we usually come together to celebrate the work of our apprentices in local government. 

The challenges of COVID-19 may mean that this year’s celebrations get less attention than normal, but that shouldn’t stop us recognising the importance of apprentices to our sector, or the impressive track record local authorities have when it comes to creating opportunities.

Since the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in April 2017, councils have created more than 43,000 apprenticeships in more than 140 fields – and continue to create extra opportunities, despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Since last March, our apprentices have had to step up and adapt to a completely new normal. 

Whether that has been acclimatising to online learning, the challenges of working remotely, or even being redeployed to help keep services running, apprentices in local government have shown adaptability, skill and patience in these testing times. 

It is a testament to their hard work – and that of their managers and training providers – that they have risen to this challenge and been a key part of our response to this unprecedented health crisis.

Though recruitment remains difficult, councils and their partners have continued to be innovative in their use of apprenticeships to respond to workforce needs. 

From Bury in the north to Somerset in the south, many councils have been using apprenticeships to upskill more of their existing workforce to boost skills levels, fill internal vacancies and meet new challenges – particularly vital for staff redeployed to new roles.

Many larger authorities have been continuing to support their maintained schools with recruitment throughout the pandemic. 

Councils such as Telford and Wrekin, Walsall, and the London Borough of Hillingdon have been working with schools to use apprenticeships to fill some of their skills gaps and vacant posts, and to help them maintain the kind of staffing levels needed to deliver effective social distancing and keep schools open when restrictions allow. 

Using the ability to transfer some of our unspent levy funds to other employers to create apprenticeships is also an important weapon in our arsenal, and it’s one that councils are fully embracing. From Brighton to Bradford and Camden to Cornwall, more and more councils are opting to transfer funds to create opportunities in their communities. 

Councils had already created more than 1,000 apprenticeships this way before the end of March 2020, supporting new jobs in housing, social care and their supply chains. 

Hampshire has transferred £1 million of its levy funds, creating more than 230 apprenticeships, predominantly in the care sector, while councils such as Shropshire took advantage of LGA support to develop and launch their levy transfer scheme in September.

As we get through to the other side of this pandemic, local government will have to adapt to new ways of working to help our communities get back on their feet. Apprenticeships will have a big part to play in this recovery and will play an important role in ensuring our workforce is ‘match fit’ to face the challenges of the future.

So, this National Apprenticeship Week, take a minute to appreciate the success of our apprentices and the valuable contribution they have made in this crisis – and will continue to make in the coming years.

For more information about the LGA’s work on employment and skills, please visit www.local.gov.uk/topics/employment-and-skills

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