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Why Your Setting Should Take Advantage of Early Years Apprenticeships

On-the-job training can make a significant contribution towards solving the childcare sector’s skills crisis…

  • Why Your Setting Should Take Advantage of Early Years Apprenticeships

There is no escaping the fact that Britain today is in the midst of a skills crisis, with businesses of all sizes struggling to recruit the skilled employees they need to thrive.

It’s not just individual businesses that are feeling the strain; the wider economy is being impacted too, with official productivity figures showing that UK PLC continues to lag behind its European counterparts.

With less than a year to go until Brexit as I write, recruiting staff with the right skills, behaviours and aptitude within the childcare sector is already a challenge.

This is further supported by research from City & Guilds last year, which found that 87% of employers across multiple sectors are struggling to recruit the skilled workers they need.

It is difficult to predict what the future might hold for businesses in the childcare sector, but many are speculating that it will become even more difficult to recruit the people the industry needs.

According to ONS figures, 5% of the nursery workforce is made up of EU migrants. That’s a potential loss of 14,000 childcare workers post-Brexit.

This will have a huge impact on a sector that already faces challenges from perceptions about its historical gender profile and a lack of clarity about career progression opportunities.

The recent government initiative to provide working parents of three- and four-year-olds with 30 hours free childcare a week, whilst welcomed by parents, carers and employers, has caused considerable concerns within the sector about the overall affordability of its implementation at a time when recruiting and retaining staff is already often a struggle.

Apprenticeships might not be the standalone solution to solving the sector’s skills challenges, but they are a great tool that can provide a platform for succession planning and talent management.

Therefore, it’s important that employers try to gain a fuller understanding about how they can be used as part of their sustainability and workforce development plans.

Boost your business

If used smartly, apprenticeships are one of the best tools employers have to help them meet their strategic and organisational goals.

While they have traditionally been seen as a vocational training pathway for school leavers, apprenticeships are in fact suitable for staff at all levels – from nursery assistants to senior managers.

Potential for professional development can be a significant motivator when choosing a new career or job.

Offering on-the-job training, such as apprenticeships, can help businesses to respond to this aspiration in a way that should be collaborative and hands-on. 

Like any business or industry sector the childcare sector will continue to evolve and develop. Identifying skills gaps, recruitment needs and development opportunities across the whole business are fundamental for growth.

However, employers don’t have to do this in isolation; they can work collaboratively with a diverse group of training providers to develop an innovative plan to develop their workforce both now and in the future.

Benefits for all

The Apprenticeship Levy, which was introduced last April, has been the focus of much discussion and concern both from business leaders and in the media.

Requiring all businesses with an annual pay bill of over £3 million to pay 0.5% of it into a central government fund has been a tough ask for some, and many are unsure about issues of fairness and accessibility.

These concerns are amplified by the DfE’s most recent apprenticeship figures, which revealed that uptake has fallen from 41,600 in November 2016 to 27,000 in November 2017. That’s 14,600 fewer apprentices entering the workforce.

Amid all the debate it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the levy may present a great opportunity to invest in the training and development of your employees, future proofing your organisation, as well as the wider industry.

Businesses of all sizes can benefit – not just those big enough to pay into it.

Even the smallest nurseries are able to draw from the levy and will only be required to pay 10% of the cost of training an apprentice, with the government paying the other 90%. 

Use it or lose it!

Employers required to pay into the levy will be able to access funds via digital accounts that must be used within two years. After that point, any money that hasn’t been used for the delivery of apprenticeships will automatically go to the Treasury.

With less than a year left until the currently accumulated funds begin to expire (two years on from the launch of the levy), only £108 million has been withdrawn from the levy fund, leaving more than £1 billion sitting unused in the new National Apprenticeship Service account.

While it’s important that employers look to the future needs of their business, never has the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ been more apt!


Suzi Gray is national advisor, health, care and childcare at City and Guilds. For advice on optimising your levy payments, contact Liz Deakin: liz.deakin@cityandguilds.com.

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