Debbie Gardiner_opinion quote

Apprenticeship reforms commenced on 1 May that changed the way apprenticeships are funded and delivered using new apprenticeship standards. This, in turn, has changed how employers are recruiting.

The reforms mean large employers with an annual payroll over £3m started paying a 0.5% levy from April and have to register on The Apprenticeship Service (TAS). Smaller employers now make a 10% contribution to the price of the apprenticeship, while the government funds the remaining 90%. Additionally, there is a £1,000 employer incentive for starting an apprentice aged 16-18; micro employers also benefit from 100% funding for their 16 to 18-year-old apprentices.

In March and April 2017, apprenticeship recruitment was at an all-time high as employers and training providers took advantage of the old funding model. Because of the spike in new apprenticeship enrolments, this naturally resulted in a significant reduction in vacancies in May and June. The number of vacancies is expected to increase again as employers work through their systems and procedure for recruitment, and anecdotal feedback suggests things will pick up in September.

Apprenticeships are an all-age programme that can be delivered to new entrants to work as well as developing and upskilling existing employees. In the retail and food sector, apprentices can be beneficial and can have a direct impact on some of the key issues that affect the industry, including productivity and customer satisfaction, increased profitability, customer loyalty, and reputation.

Staff retention is important within all industries but particularly within food and drink. High levels of staff turnover are costly, can damage brand reputation and above all reduce productivity. Our customers who run apprenticeships report a reduction in staff turnover, as they help to improve staff retention due to more investment in training and development. There is also more focus on promotion and management development within the company, which provides the opportunity for career progression for employees.

Our experience shows that when opening new jobs and staff recruitment, a food retailer or manufacturer that runs an apprenticeship programme will be seen as a more attractive and secure place to work than one that doesn’t; the programme will help the company to become an employer of choice.

Particularly within the food retail industries, there is stiff competition and customers demand high-quality customer service, good stock control, value for money, good hygiene and an ‘experience’. Due to new apprenticeship standards, there is an improvement in skills, behaviour and knowledge levels within the apprenticeship schemes, as well as increased requirements for maths, English and ICT, which, in turn, drive up the quality within the sector.

The apprenticeship programme can be developed in collaboration with the employer to meet the specific need of the business to increase standards and consistency. The Apprenticeship brand is also recognised and seen as a mark of well valued training and development, which gives businesses at all levels a reason to feel confident.

Debbie Gardiner is CEO of Qube Learning