mind the gap

With the much anticipated Apprenticeship Levy having been officially launched in April, the subject of entry-level talent is more prominent than ever. And that’s no bad thing.

This is by far the most radical departure from traditional government policy and it is policy that is here to stay for at least the next 20-30 years.  The old days of the annual dance of negotiating with the treasury to see how much has been (or can be) allocated to a ‘skills funding’ kitty for that fiscal period are gone.

I am genuinely thrilled about the measures being put in place to help businesses grow and develop their employees, allowing people at all levels to enjoy rewarding, fruitful careers. The issue comes when we start trying to compare apprentices and graduates – which is the most valuable? A degree or an apprenticeship – what is best?  The way I see it, these ‘labels’ are almost interchangeable. Ultimately, a business is made up of people; not labelled products that can be slotted on to a shelf neatly! It’s about understanding the value they can add…

Until around twenty years ago, school leavers were encouraged to secure apprenticeships or vocational training of some kind. Then, the focus changed and school leavers have since been relentlessly funnelled into Higher Education.

Now, with the rising cost of university fees, more and more students are considering pursuing vocational pathways. It’s important to not get confused by the labels. Apprentices and graduates are, for all intents and purposes, the same people, but the ‘apprentices’ of today just happen to have a degree. And the ‘new wave’ of apprentices are filling the void that the graduate shift left.

The question businesses should really be asking is not ‘do we want a graduate or an apprentice?’ but ‘what does our business need now? In three years? And in five years, ten years’ time?’

Additionally, the vernacular needs to change.  We should no longer talk of apprentices. ‘Apprenticeships’ can be offered at all stages and experience levels within a business from entry level through to Director level.

Businesses need to think about people and the roles where they need to attract and develop talent to continue to drive their businesses forward, developing a robust and sustainable succession ‘proofing’ strategy and not distil it down to a series of labelled roles.

We have always adopted the ‘reverse engineer’ approach.  We always ask our clients to think about the true succession of people they hire in part, so they are also thinking about the development needs from the outset that will enable their new recruits to flourish. ‘Where do the people you are recruiting NOW, need to be in 3 years’ time?’ Depending upon their answer, we will consider the skills required for this ‘projected’ role and source similar skills or hints of these skills in the candidates we speak with. With entry-level talent, it is likely that these skills won’t be fully realised yet, but we spot the potential now and then support their development.  Equally, experience is a bi-product of having a job.  Sadly there are plenty of ‘experienced’ people who don’t deliver and just because they are experienced does not suggest they are devoid of the need for development.  We never stop learning and we should – ‘never stop learning’!

If we are to return to the question of graduates or apprentices, my response would be… take both! Both graduates and apprentices have a wealth of different skills to offer and if we combine these skills and encourage the sharing of knowledge between the two camps, the impact these individuals could have on a business is boundless.

So it’s not a question of ‘either or’ or the one ‘versus’ the other – a combination is the way forward.


Further apprenticeship information available here: