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Walsall: Use the apprenticeship levy to meet workforce needs

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Driven by the opportunities presented by the apprenticeship levy, Walsall MBC has been implementing a new phase in its apprenticeship programme.

  • Project: Generating real success for local people
  • Objectives: Our corporate workforce strategy 2017-20 aims to ensure that our workforce has the right skills and behaviours, is ready for the future and reflects the communities we serve. Our staff are our greatest asset and our successes a reflection of our staff, their commitment and their professionalism in helping us achieve our priorities. Our workforce strategy recognises that the success of our organisation depends upon attracting, developing and retaining talent, and having the right infrastructure and rewards approach in place in order to do so. Our apprenticeship strategy is helping us achieve these objectives.
  • Timescale: July 2017 onwards
  • Cost to authority: Staffing
  • Number of staff working on project: Senior leader, apprenticeship lead and part-time business support officer
  • Outcomes: We have overachieved against our public sector target and spending the levy. Numbers are growing – we now have 175 Apprentices within the organisation
  • Officer contact details: Helena Baxter

Having developed a carefully considered apprenticeship strategy, alongside its wider workforce strategy, the council identified key areas in which apprenticeships can help improve and build on its services to the community. There is also a chance to bring in new talent with fresh ideas and offer new learning opportunities to existing staff.

With a combined 7,000 employees, including maintained schools, and over 200 apprentices within its ranks, Walsall MBC is continuing to work hard to promote apprenticeships internally, across its numerous services and departments, but also externally within its local community.

A new phase

Before the introduction of the levy, apprenticeships played a less formal role within Walsall MBC, mainly as part of its social care programme back in 2008.

As a large public sector organisation with a high levy fund, the council is keen to maximise the opportunities presented by the levy to ‘future-proof’ its services, and improve the customer experience. As such, in 2016, the council set up an apprenticeship working group to set a clear plan for how it could best use the levy now and long-term, in line with its wider workforce strategy.

As a local council, with limited budgets and resources, the levy is a fantastic opportunity for us to reinvigorate and restructure our training budgets and invest in both new and existing talent. Setting out a clear strategy for us was crucial, as we wanted to work smartly as an organisation, and ensure apprenticeships are fully embedded within our working culture.

The council reviewed how it would reach the 2.3% apprenticeship starts target for public sector organisations and mapped out how many apprentices it could take on at each apprenticeship level to get the higher skills needed and offer opportunities for progression. This needed to factor the cost of the various standards and the requirement that every apprentice spends 20% of their time in off the job training.

Putting the plan into action

With a clear strategy in place, Walsall MBC could start implementing its new apprenticeship programme, ‘Endless Possibilities’ in July 2017, and already has around 200 apprentices employed, exceeding its 2.3% starts target of 165.

Some of the standards on offer include team leading, leadership and management, business support, print and design, exercise and fitness, recruitment, payroll and regulatory compliance. The council is now also offering degree apprenticeships in chartered management and digital technical solutions. In September it will be offering degree apprenticeships in civil engineering, social work and teaching.

The strong initial uptake is a result of the council’s hard work in creating identity brand and identity for the programme.

Apprenticeships are a relatively new concept for many of our staff, particularly our managers and senior leadership team, so ensuring all employees had the relevant information about the benefits apprenticeships could bring to their own careers as well as the wider department was key.

This internal promotional activity involved setting up a dedicated twitter handle, creating fact sheets, writing manager briefings, as well as developing a range of other resources all under the umbrella of Endless Possibilities. This made Walsall MBC apprenticeships immediately recognisable to our staff, services, departments and potential new recruits.

Part of this internal activity involved informing local schools about apprenticeships and the levy, and advising the council’s maintained schools of their levy allocation and how they might best use it. This has so far yielded positive results, with 56 apprenticeship starts since July 2017 in standards such as IT and digital, teaching, business administration, finance, PE and sports, and caretaking.

New opportunities

One key area which apprenticeships are helping the council address is in providing new learning opportunities for existing staff, particularly in areas where chances to learn have been limited due to budget constraints.

Also, as a public sector organisation, with a need to review what and how it is delivering, it was impracticable for all the council’s apprentices to be brand new recruits. As such, the council has initially considered a 75:25 split between existing staff and new recruits.

Being able to invest in training existing staff through apprenticeships is an incredible opportunity for us. Some areas of the council, such as our leisure team, haven’t had a training budget for years. To be able to give staff the chance to train and obtain a national qualification is brilliant for both morale and productivity and offers more long-term career progression opportunities.

Also, we recognise the need to improve the customer experience using modern and digital methods. Through offering apprenticeships to existing staff, our employees can develop the customer service and digital skills required, and ensure our workforce is fit for the future.

The council is currently offering team leading and other leadership and management standards to staff, with a longer-term view to get senior leaders in the organisation to take on the senior leadership apprenticeships at level 7, equivalent to am Masters. A cohort of around six of will commence in autumn 2018 with the University of Wolverhampton as our degree apprenticeship provider.

Widening participation

As new members of the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network, Walsall MBC has also pledged to use apprenticeships to widen participation across the organisation. The council is focusing on using apprenticeships to help care leavers to get into work and has ringfenced 18 apprenticeship vacancies specifically for this group.

As a corporate parent, supporting our care leavers into employment is something we’re very passionate about. The council currently has 10 care leavers on apprenticeships which are very much designed around them.

This involves provision of additional support and pastoral care so that we are offering them the very best chance of succeeding in their chosen career. We’re proud of our care leavers programme and hope it’s something we’re able to extend further by engaging external local employers.

Going forward, Walsall MBC has high hopes for what its apprenticeship programme can deliver, including increased skill levels, a more representative workforce, enhanced succession planning ability and improved recruitment and retention.

Helena Baxter, apprenticeship programme project officer, Walsall MBC

The National Apprenticeship Service

The National Apprenticeship Service supports the delivery of apprenticeships in England, offering free, impartial advice and support to employers looking to recruit for the first time or expand their apprenticeship workforce. Interested in finding out more about employing apprentices? Complete the online enquiry form on GOV.UK or call the National Apprenticeship Service on 08000 150 600.

The National Careers Service

The National Careers Service employs more than 1,200 careers advisers, who provide free, up to date, impartial information, advice and guidance on careers, skills and the labour market, across England, to young people (aged 13 years and over) and to adults, including adults in custody. Individuals can access the service by searching online for National Careers Service or by calling the Exam Results Helpline 0800 100 900.

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