The apprenticeship levy presents plenty of opportunities to attract new talent and bridge any skills gaps you might be facing.

But increasingly businesses are recognising that it can also be used to nurture employees through different stages of their career, providing futureproofing with benefits to both the individual and to your organisation.

To help you get the most from your apprenticeship levy, Employer Partnerships Manager Jo Reid explains how the levy can be used to develop professional career pathways and why this matters.

Why is it important to create identifiable career pathways?

“The employers we work with all agree that it’s really important. It takes time and resource to recruit the right talent, and that presents a cost – once you’ve invested the time and effort attracting individuals who are the ‘right fit’ for your business, with the right skills and attributes, you’ll want to hang onto them.

“It’s important to offer these individuals opportunities for career advancement – because if you don’t, you’re likely to lose your best talent to competitor organisations that do. Mapping out career pathways from the very beginning helps new recruits to understand the progression opportunities available to them – and this is likely to result in higher levels of motivation, commitment to success and loyalty.

“For the employer, career pathways can support succession planning, enabling you to nurture and develop high performers, future leaders and specialisms within your organisation.”

How can the apprenticeship levy support with this?

“You can currently use your levy to fund apprenticeship programmes from entry level 2 through to level 7 master’s degree apprenticeships. That means you can develop individuals at the level most relevant to their stage of career, providing learning and development that builds their knowledge, skills and expertise in readiness to move into a more senior or specialist role.

“For example, a school leaver looking to pursue a career in aviation could gain experience within the industry by completing a level 2 aviation ground operative apprenticeship. Then as they progress in the role and become embedded into the team they could develop a specialism such as aircraft handling or passenger operations, which are supported by the aviation ground specialist level 3 apprenticeship programme.

“For those with ambitions to progress further within the industry, perhaps into a leadership and management role, the level 4 aviation operations manager programme will ensure they gain the skills and experience they need to take on a role with responsibility for leading and developing a high-performing team.

“Apprenticeship standards provide the foundations for your professional development programmes, but what does excellence look like to you? This is the first question that we ask our employer partners to ensure that we fully understand the purpose, aims and desired outcomes of the training. And that’s where we get creative – we build bespoke learning and development solutions, because one size, most definitely, does not fit all.”

What are the benefits of an early career apprenticeship programme?

“Apprenticeships are a great way to get your foot in the door if you have no experience of an industry. Working alongside experienced professionals, apprentices quickly pick up workplace practices and job-related skills. They have the support of their apprenticeship coach, who helps them to develop industry knowledge and understanding relevant to their role.

“By investing in employees early in their career you can literally ‘grow your own talent’. Your business benefits from a skilled and more productive workforce. And when you nurture new recruits early on they’re likely to be among your most loyal and engaged employees, committed to the success of the company that gave them the chance to prove themselves.”

How can apprenticeships support progression mid-career?

“For many employees getting a foot in the door is just the beginning. Once they have experience of an industry they start to think about career progression. What other opportunities are out there? How can they secure a promotion?

“There are plenty of advanced or higher level apprenticeship standards that can support their next steps. They enable individuals to develop substantive new skills or specialise in a particular field in order to improve their career prospects.

“For example, a customer service practitioner may be looking to take on more responsibility. The level 3 customer service specialist programme would build the skills they need to act as an escalation point for more complex customer problems, or to influence change and improvements in service.

“A specialist may want to progress one step further and become responsible for a team or department – our customer service team leader and customer service departmental manager programmes support development at a more senior level.

“For specialisms across your IT and digital teams, the level 3 infrastructure technician apprenticeship is a good solid foundation for employees looking to undertake training as a systems/network engineer further down the line. This Level 4 programme embeds the knowledge and skills required to become an effective and high performing team member, with the ability to design, install, maintain and support communication networks within an organisation or between organisations.”

How can apprenticeships support employees looking to move into leadership roles?

“The skills needed to be a good employee aren’t necessarily the skills that make a good leader. In fact, many good employees end up in management roles by accident or default, through time served and business need. But if they lack the skills to lead and manage effectively this can have a devastating effect on teams, individuals and businesses. This is one of the most common challenges employers face and one of the most common issues that I am asked to provide a solution for.

“Apprenticeship programmes are available to support every level of leadership and management across an organisation. For example, an individual with a few years’ experience might be ready to take on their first supervisory role, supported by our Aspiring Manager programme with the level 3 team leader/supervisor apprenticeship at its core. Colleagues are able to develop an understanding of people management, effective communication and decision-making skills.

“Further down the line colleagues might be asked to take on additional responsibilities such as leading and developing an area of the business and/or managing projects to help deliver against the organisation’s strategic objectives – the level 5 operations/departmental manager apprenticeship programme builds on the skills, knowledge and behaviours gained in previous roles, and focuses on developing business leaders at a strategic level.

“For individuals who may already be embedded in a strategic leadership role, but with ambitions to develop further, hone their leadership skills or take on a new challenge, there are opportunities to access degree-level  programmes like the chartered manager or senior leader MBA master’s degree apprenticeships.”

How have employers used their levy to date to create professional career pathways?

“We work with a number of employers who view the apprenticeship levy as an opportunity to attract, retain and develop talented individuals.

“Don-Bur is a great example of an organisation that’s thinking long term and using its levy to support succession planning while providing clear career goals for individuals.

“Training and development is available to employees at different stages of their career, and one individual who has benefited from this is Ben Blake. Having joined Don-Bur as an entry-level engineering apprentice, Ben is now undertaking learning towards achieving a level 6 manufacturing engineer degree apprenticeship.

“Since joining the programme his confidence has soared. He’s been involved in multiple projects and had the opportunity to apply his keen eye for innovation and finding solutions. The senior leadership team at Don-Bur has now identified him as a high potential leader of the future, and he’s been enrolled onto the team leading ILM level 3 programme alongside some of his colleagues.

“By empowering senior leaders to build clear progression pathways that add value and are fit for purpose, employers like Don Bur have the reassurance that the talent they need lies within the organisation, essentially future-proofing their business.”

For more information about using your levy to develop professional career pathways contact Jo or another member of the team who will be happy to help.