Effective apprenticeships: developing skills and plugging the gaps

It has never been more important for businesses to have the right skills at all levels. But with increasing competition for new skilled workers, increasing skills gaps with existing employees, and with wider challenges such as Brexit, finding and developing those skills has never been more difficult.

Having an effective apprenticeship strategy is therefore essential, both for hiring new recruits and for developing existing staff.

And with increased pressure on recruitment and training budgets, now is the time to ensure you’re using the Apprenticeship Levy and other apprenticeship funding effectively to develop the team you need.

The benefits of apprenticeships

Whether you’re developing talent in house, retaining or upskilling existing staff or developing new recruits, using apprenticeship funding and training effectively can improve efficiency and increase productivity.

Using apprenticeships as part of training and development for staff will likely result in a more agile, motivated and productive workforce. A recent study showed: 

  • 86 per cent of employers said apprenticeships helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation.
  • 78 per cent of employers said apprenticeships helped them improve productivity.
  • 74 per cent of employers said apprenticeships helped them improve the quality of their product or service.

Businesses that have embedded apprenticeships have:

  • used them for training employees at all levels and ages;
  • replaced existing programmes or professional qualifications with apprenticeships and used their levy to offset costs;
  • closed future skills gaps, or upskilled and reskilled their existing staff;
  • created a motivated, well-trained, ambitious, and loyal workforce;
  • reduced staff turnover and reduced recruitment costs; and
  • boosted productivity and supported social mobility.

Employer Skills Survey Research Report – October 2020

Employer Skills Survey Research Report

According to the Department for Education Employer Skills Survey 2019 Research Report , published in October 2020, 68 per cent of large establishments stated that the principle reason for commencing apprenticeships was a strategic decision, noting how it had benefited them. 89% of establishments employing more than 100 employees confirmed that, where apprentices completed their apprenticeship, they had been retained as permanent employees

The Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers

In October 2020, the National Apprenticeship Service recognised some of England's leading employers for their overall commitment to employing apprentices, their creation of new apprenticeships, the diversity of their new apprentices, and the progression of their apprentices onto further apprenticeships and employment.

Those recognised included employers from the public and private sectors, including industries such as engineering, banking, healthcare, retailing, local government, accountancy and employers from the charity sector.

The process and full list can be found here.

The key characteristics of the ‘Top 100’ employers are that apprentices represent up to c7.5 per cent of the workforce and that 52 per cent of the new apprenticeships starting in the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 were existing employees.

How to get started with an apprenticeship strategy

If you’re just getting started with apprenticeships or you want to get more from your existing programme, having a proper strategy is vital. We recommend starting by asking some important questions:

  • Do you fully understand your levy spend? Are you sure you are paying the right amount of apprenticeship levy? Are you clear about what it can be spent on?
  • Have you got a workforce planning, people or talent strategy in place?
  • Are there clear owners and advocates for apprenticeship development and apprenticeship levy spending?
  • Have you defined your apprenticeships objectives and desired business impact?
  • Do you have a performance monitoring process to assess value for money and business impact from apprenticeship training?
  • Can you support your supply chain or partners by transferring any unused funds to them, or could you work with regional, local or sector partners? 

For more information on how you can start to think about apprenticeships and align them with your organisation’s objectives, please contact

Mike Cheetham Mike Cheetham


James Whybrow James Whybrow

Associate Director