Maximising the Opportunities of the Apprenticeship Levy

Published: 25 January 2017

The Levy is due to launch in May of 2017 and training and education providers of all types have been preparing for some time.  However, we are finding that some employers still don’t know about it and others are yet to work out how they can claim back the value of this additional ‘tax’ they find themselves paying.

Both Further Education (FE) and private training providers will have held numerous client meetings and are no doubt running seminars to explain the impact of the Levy to senior business leaders.  For some businesses the challenge will be finding the time away from their core business to drive the best value out of the Levy – and this could be viewed by some as a time-consuming and costly distraction.  However for HR Directors who have been perhaps starved of a decent training budget for some time, this is a remarkable opportunity to invest in the staff and aid retention, recruitment and talent development.  Whatever the welcome that awaits as you knock on the door to ask for the business - someone will talk to you about the Levy!

Private training providers have been assiduous in their business development meetings, and many FE colleges will say they are doing something similar.  However, it’s become apparent that some FE colleges have gone much further, turning to more overt private sector practices to make more of an impact with Levy paying clients.  With some of our recent assignments, it’s become clear that several colleges have recruited B2B professionals and invested in CRM systems to optimise on business development opportunities. This cultural adaptation has seen them recruit staff on different terms and conditions, with salaries that match the private sector, performance related pay and even separate premises in some cases. Managing these staff means setting specific and stretching targets aligned with close monitoring to assess effectiveness.  We are also seeing new trading entities being developed to differentiate them from the college.  

These colleges are recruiting focused and disciplined business developers who will use professional pitching techniques, a range of labour market intel, established business relationships and introducers to address the market.  They are carefully targeting clients whilst liaising with colleagues within the college to ensure smooth and high quality delivery.  They may not necessarily come from the training sector and this won’t diminish their ability to win business and advance the aims of their colleges.  They will need time to get up to speed of course, but their instincts, core skills and experience suit this type of business model perfectly.

Traditional FE business developers have some way to go to demonstrate that they are as commercial and responsive to the needs of Levy paying businesses.   They may now be interacting with clients who have never procured training on this scale and, for these employers, their decision to buy will be based on criteria such as quality, cost, flexibility and, importantly, finding a commercial partner that matches them in terms of understanding, responsiveness and efficiency.   That partner will understand that the needs of the business come first. Now, FE will protest that they know this as well, but the skills have to be better demonstrated, especially to those who haven’t used training providers of any type before. 

The Levy is a vital lifeline for the FE sector but to many clients it’s perceived as a nuisance and a ‘tax’. Messages have to be relayed about its benefits, the value it can add right across a business as well as the wider impact it can bring to its success. There is a fantastic message to sell and the FE sector should be grasping the opportunity to demonstrate their responsiveness, ensuring they don’t lose contracts to private sector competition or indeed the HE sector, which is equally interested in optimising on any available business training opportunities.  

We wish the FE sector well – it’s very well placed and offers great quality and integrity but the whole organisation has to be prepared to 'work outside of the box' to ensure that industry views FE as a commercial and consistent expert business partner. It could be the start of some long and fruitful relationships. 

Mary McGovern in a Principal Consultant, she specialises in recruiting senior management and leadership positions for Further Education providers. 

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