Jill Whittaker OBE, Managing Director at The Executive Development Network (EDN), highlights how vital training is for businesses struggling with recruitment and retention, debunks common myths, and offers practical advice on how to make apprenticeships work for you.
What we seek from our careers has undoubtedly changed since the advent of the pandemic. Ultimately, employees want to try new things, to upskill and reskill, and to have their value recognised more than ever before. To recruit and retain staff in this climate, SMEs must find the balance between meeting training demands and other time-consuming priorities.
It may come as no surprise, that according to recent research managers in sectors such as financial and business services report that the pandemic has made staff retention more difficult. But what can be done to turn the tide on staffing concerns as we emerge into a new world of work? The answer lies with offering flexible training that suits your business and employees alike.
Getting new recruits through the door
With so many vacancies sat unfilled in SMEs across the UK, offering an attractive training package as part of an employee’s job role – with clear progression pathways outlined from the beginning – could be key to the most talented, ambitious individuals choosing your company. In fact, 77% of all people asked said that if they were offered a job with the prospect of doing an apprenticeship to develop their skills, they would take it – clearly demonstrating the value they see in training.
Despite this, training can be a misunderstood tool at business executives’ disposal. Myths surrounding apprenticeships, for example, pervade SMEs, with the majority of employees (58.5%) believing this type of training is for school leavers, and only a quarter (25.9%) see apprenticeships as an option for anyone at any stage of their career and life.
Yet there are apprenticeship courses available across all sectors and skills. To fully embrace the opportunities that apprenticeships provide, SMEs should consider how the courses can attract applications from those new to the workforce as well as those that may have more experience but still want to learn and develop, or those looking to reskill entirely.
Keeping staff happy
As many businesses will know, getting new recruits through the door is only half the battle – it’s keeping them there which continues to prove challenging. Training can assist with these efforts, with nine out of 10 employees saying they be more likely to stay in a role longer if their employer invested in training from the outset.
Employees will usually stay longer at a company if they feel continually valued and their potential talent is frequently noticed and drawn out by ongoing opportunities to upskill. A valued workforce is likely to foster greater loyalty to its employer, with greater satisfaction cultivating a more positive working environment for everyone. Ultimately, if the goal is to encourage talented employees to stay longer in a role and feel nurtured, then training, in particular apprenticeships, is the way forward.
Recruitment managers should also evaluate where skill gaps lie within their teams and work closely with their employee base to understand who might be interested in upskilling or reskilling in these areas. This will help to fill the gaps from within as external hiring concerns persist.
But when 80% of employees believe there’s less emphasis on training and development as they progress through their careers, its clear businesses need to up their efforts – and one way to do so is to understand how to make opportunities like apprenticeships work for your business.
Making apprenticeships work for you
Time is precious resource for all SMEs. In fact, almost half (47%) said that they have been put off offering training programmes due to the time investment needed. In relation to apprenticeships this is in part due to the misconception that they are a linear or formulaic approach to training. Yet, there are several flexible training options already available via apprenticeships that can help you to navigate these time challenges and ease pressures on HR managers.
Take ‘accelerated apprenticeships’ as an example, which are an ideal format for time-pressed organisations. These allow the employer to adjust the length of an apprenticeship for an individual who has existing relevant knowledge or skills, providing there’s a minimum programme time of twelve months. For instance, anyone new to a company who has a background at an organisation with a similar service offer may already have some of the skills needed in the sector and wouldn’t require as deep a level of training in this area.
Apprenticeships are continuously shifting and improving to better serve the end users. For example, ‘front-loaded apprenticeships’ allow businesses to offer a greater proportion of training upfront so that employees can hit the ground running with their new skills. This type of learning pathway is especially useful for organisations which are struggling to find the time to formally train individuals once they’ve begun their role.
Applying for any type of apprenticeship is a straightforward process, plus funding can be used from an existing Apprenticeship Levy pot. The Executive Development Network is able to talk through the various options available with you and advise which model is right for your business.
Feel the benefits
Though exploring different learning pathways and offering training opportunities like apprenticeships may appear to require immediate investment by employers, the long-term cost efficiency will bring greater benefit. This is especially true if employers consider roles and services that are currently outsourced at greater expense. If this could be brought in-house by upskilling existing staff, then the cost savings can be redirected towards more training – and so the nourishing cycle of training can continue.
SMEs have too long reeled from the ‘Great Resignation’ of 2021. Business managers should be considering how to keep staff and how to make a long career within their organisation equally attractive to new and existing employees.
It’s time to refocus our energy and provide positive opportunities for talented individuals who are seeking value in their professional lives. Apprenticeships are the way forward to achieve this, no matter what the needs are of both the individual and the company employing them.
As The Executive Development Network new toolkit shows, apprenticeships offer a unique opportunity to do this in a flexible and cost-effective manner. After all, boosting recruitment and retention rates at the same time as improving the skills and efficiency of your workforce offers a unique win-win scenario.
 All research relates to The Executive Development Network’s recent See the Opportunity research https://edn.training/resources/see-the-opportunity/
The Executive Development Network (EDN) offers next-level management and leadership training, to help businesses grow their talent pool via high-quality apprenticeship and vocational programmes.
Top performing businesses have great leadership, EDN works directly with businesses to create bespoke talent development programmes. These professional apprenticeships empower teams and individuals, helping them become better managers, board members and leaders.