Posted by:1 May, 2012
Championing apprenticeships can take time and resources but when it’s done right it can bring huge benefits to an organisation. The Leader of Lancashire CC, Geoff Driver, pictured, talks about how they are embracing apprenticeships with more than 800 going through their programme since 2006.
Few councils in the country can have embraced the value of apprenticeships quite so wholeheartedly as we have here in Lancashire.
We had just 16 apprenticeships in 2006 – we currently have more than 400 and in total have had more than 800 go through the programme since then. How did we get here and, more importantly, why?
I believe firmly that apprenticeships are the lifeblood of our workforce. They bring huge benefits for both the apprentices and for us as an organisation. Here in Lancashire, three specific catalysts have driven that increase in the number of apprenticeships.
Back in 2006, our Local Area Agreement (LAA) identified our economic priorities and explored what the county council, as a key employer, could do to improve Lancashire as a place to live and work. That LAA included a really challenging commitment to create 250 apprenticeships within the county council in just two years. We deliberately set out to develop a programme that would be a model for best practice nationally, and within two years we had 253 apprentices.
A second main driver for championing apprenticeships has been to cut the cost of agency workers while at the same time broadening our talent pool and improving the economic chances of priority groups such as looked after children, Jobcentre Plus clients, young people who are not in education, employment or training and individuals who need help getting into the job market.
In 2008/9 we had an annual agency working bill of more than £10 million a year, with around 450 agency workers in the authority at any one time. By re-engineering our peripheral workforce, increasing the number of apprenticeships and creating real jobs for them to do, we have cut that bill to under £3 million this year – saving the authority more than £7 million.
The third driver for the expansion was our corporate workforce planning. Back in 2006 we had a real problem in that our workforce did not reflect the local community. We had an ageing workforce, with high-levels of skills in workers aged 45 and over. We were also struggling to get younger workers into the organisation.
Front-line entry posts
Through our apprenticeship and Future Horizons (pre-apprenticeship) programmes we have redesigned our front-line entry posts and created ways in which people from economic priority groups – looked after children, 16-25 year olds, and the long-term unemployed – can get into working for the authority. One of our big achievements has been to mainstream these programmes so that all managers know how to recruit to apprenticeships and the various other programmes we run.
What is Future Horizons?
Given a nationally-recognised gap in training to get young people to a point where they can start an apprenticeship, Lancashire County Council developed its own pre-apprenticeship training programme, called Future Horizons.
Aimed at 16 to 18 year olds who are not in education, employment or training, Future Horizons is a 20-week course, including an eight-week placement at the county council or one of our partners, aimed at providing the employability skills to apply for any apprenticeship.
Lancashire County Council has also pioneered a programme called Introduction to Future Horizons, which works with vulnerable 15 year olds, to raise aspirations via work experience with a pathway for them to go on to Future Horizons at 16, to prevent them from becoming disengaged in the first place.
And this isn’t about getting young people in to do jobs on the cheap or creating supernumerary positions that serve no purpose. We pay our apprentices £12,145 a year – nearly three times what we are statutorily obliged to pay – and we make sure they do real jobs.
The majority of our apprenticeships last 24 months and give the apprentice a chance to gain real work experience, sometimes in different parts of the authority, while studying towards an apprenticeship framework. And our apprentices stay with us – 87% go on to take up permanent jobs within the organisation.
Of course, this sort of growth has not been without its problems along the way. It’s fair to say that those early targets, in particular, were challenging. But the success of those schemes and our long-term commitment has meant that our initiatives are now resourced appropriately. And our success has meant that we are now engaged as consultants by the National Apprenticeship Service, to help other organisations develop their apprenticeship schemes.
But we aren’t resting on our laurels. In fact, in our most recent budget, we identified a further £10 million to develop and enhance our existing apprenticeship programmes, including our pre-apprenticeships and specialist schemes to train the schools workforce and provide work opportunities for veterans.
We will also develop new programmes in business sectors with specialist demands, so that Lancashire’s residents, and especially those in greatest need, have maximum access to the opportunities created.
Apprenticeships may not be new but, as we have demonstrated, they still deliver real opportunities.
Cllr Geoff Driver (Con), leader, Lancashire CC
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