The UK Apprenticeship Levy should close the public sector skills gap and improve industry-wide engagement with healthcare professionals.
The much-debated UK Apprenticeship Levy is coming into effect on April 6th. That means employers with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million will be required to put 0.5% of that total toward the government’s efforts to implement improved and consistent apprenticeship training across industries. Each employer will then be able to spend their levy contributions on their own apprenticeship programmes.
By putting the onus on employers to produce the next wave of industry professionals, the levy incentivises managers and executives from every industry to engage in training their future reports and colleagues. After all, if they are required to pay the levy, businesses may as well ensure their recruiting and internal development departments are making the most of the investment. This increased engagement matters, as it translates to greater ownership of the apprenticeship programme and an active interest in ensuring its success.
Despite its implementation across all business sectors, the effects of the Apprenticeship Levy will vary from industry to industry. While some may feel that the levy places an undue burden on businesses, it ultimately represents an exciting opportunity to improve the UK workforce’s international standing as future-focused and highly skilled.
Increasing Cross-Sector Engagement for Healthcare Providers
The development of apprenticeship standards has facilitated unprecedented involvement from healthcare professionals who have typically been a step removed from apprenticeship training.
What does this look like in action? To use one example, GPs, hospices, and other SMEs all actively participated in the recent development of the Healthcare Support Worker and Assistant Practitioner Standards. Additionally, some larger employers, including a few major NHS trusts, have already shed their disinterest in apprenticeships and preconceived biases with training providers to actively engage in the process of on-the-job mentorship.
The healthcare sector has long emphasised the importance of core skill development that responds to three key challenges: 1) handling spikes in demand; 2) ensuring reliably high standards of care in all parts of the country at all times; and 3) better managing available funds by boosting productivity and efficiency in the workplace. To that end, most large healthcare organisations, and some smaller ones for that matter, have already made good use of apprenticeship programmes to develop relevant skills — both through internal training initiatives and by hiring external providers.
That means healthcare enters this period of fairly serious upheaval for many employers at a distinct advantage. The levy presents an opportunity for the industry to build upon its past successes by putting the added investment towards improving their already effective apprenticeship programmes and building a highly skilled and reliable workforce for the future.
Closing the Public Sector Skills Gap
When it comes to the percentage of employees possessing high-level, technical skills, the UK has notoriously lagged in the international rankings. Even more concerning is the impact that skills shortage has had on the availability of public goods and services. According to a 2016 Ofcom report examining internet use among E5 countries, the UK is in the lead when it comes to mobile broadband connectivity and the volume of products and services purchased online. Yet the same cannot be said for the digital quality and accessibility of public resources. In other words, our population is extremely connected across all digital platforms, but to date we haven’t been able to efficiently interface with public sector employees and services online.
Sure enough, one of the key factors widening that chasm is a lack of high-level digital skills among these laborers. Respondents to a survey from the National Audit Office indicated that there was a skills gap in every major area needed to transform public sector digital capabilities and technologies, including strategy, design, delivery, and technical operations.
The Apprenticeship Levy presents a chance to bridge that gap and transform the public sector’s workforce for the better. Mandatory investment in workplace training for public service employees will give government bodies the funding they need to train employees in digital intelligence systems and leverage resources like data analytics to develop more efficient, capable systems.
Ultimately, healthcare and public sector organisations should not write off the Apprenticeship Levy as an undue burden or “employment tax,” but instead investigate how an apprenticeship programme may fit into their existing recruitment and training strategies to modernise their operations and give employees the skills they need to succeed in 2017 and beyond.
Yet before the first programmes are launched, these organisations must ensure they find the right candidates for what will surely become more challenging roles. Phone screens and an endless stream of in-person interviews promise to waste valuable time and resources at this crucial moment for the public sector. So HR professionals should instead consider automated screening tools and live video interviewing software to most efficiently recruit the next wave of talented professionals. Once hired, these new colleagues can benefit from the wide array of in-depth vocational training afforded by the levy and more rapidly become productive contributors.