The case for apprenticeships

Apprenticeships can provide a solution by offering a route to harness fresh talent. NMT speaks to training providers and operators

Skills shortages are still one of the biggest threats to the UK early years sector. Training people equips them with the right skills for the job so they can perform a wider range of tasks and take on new responsibilities. This can help to reduce skill shortages, minimise staff turnover and increase productivity.

Taking on an apprentice is cost-effective as well, because people can learn while they’re on the job and the government contributes to the costs of learning. There are clear financial benefits to employers and their investment in apprenticeships is repaid many times over.

A sustainable workforce strategy

Sophie Hayter, apprenticeships manager and Mark Hassan-Ali, people director at N Family Club explain how they have boosted apprenticeship opportunities: “By providing a strong apprenticeship offer we can bring new and emerging talent into our organisation. We have the privilege of being part of the future generation of early years educators and can ensure that the training they receive is of the highest quality.

“Apprenticeships are an intrinsic part of our talent attraction and retention strategy, and we see this always being a key driver for talent to support our growth and the development of our teams. We offer apprenticeships from Level 2 right the way through to Level 7, which means that an individual could join us at entry level and work their way to senior leader through our apprenticeship offer.

“By providing apprenticeships here at N Family Club we have been able to recruit team members who don’t have relevant qualifications or experience but who really want a career in the early years sector. It is important that these applicants have the opportunity to learn and develop the skills needed to fulfil the role of early years educator and be able to provide outstanding education and care for our children and their families. Investing in apprenticeships has significantly improved our recruitment efforts in many ways as they enable us to attract a diverse pool of candidates, including newcomers, career returners, career changers, over-50s through our Restless partnership, school leavers, and those who prefer non-traditional education paths. This has expanded our talent pool and allowed us to access unique skill sets, enriching our workforce.”

At Bright Horizons, HR director Janine Leightley shares her views on how the group has supported apprenticeship programmes for staff:

“Apprenticeships are an essential pathway to providing and developing early childhood professionals. We use training providers who deliver differentiated learning to ensure that every individual learns and grows through their apprenticeship. We believe that the transition of taught theory into practical skills is of paramount importance to the apprentice, but also to maintain our outstanding care and education of children. We want to retain our colleagues and provide opportunities for them to continue their careers with us through onward pedagogical and leadership learning experiences.

“Our nursery teams help to nurture individuals embarking on an apprenticeship. Managers, deputy managers and the whole wider teams are always on hand to support, and we also have a dedicated pathways team to ensure that apprentices are empowered to achieve success. An early years educator is an expert partner to parents and helps to provide an important support service for employers and organisations who want to nurture fulfilled and productive careers for their own staff.”

Prioritise training

Apprenticeships allow potential employees to learn by doing, which can be invaluable for a broad range of learners and provide opportunities for those who have not taken the traditional education route.
Apprenticeships are not a new concept, but they are increasingly making an impact across the early years sector.
Karen Derbyshire, operations director early years at Realise, explains why supporting more availability to apprenticeships makes good business sense:

“A good proportion of nursery groups are Apprenticeship Levy payers. Any employer with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million must pay 0.5% into the Levy pot. If an early years setting meets this criteria, then they can use the Levy money to fund apprenticeships for their people.

“While the Levy structure is well established and understood in some quarters, there are undoubtedly some nursery groups across the UK who are eligible to benefit from the system but continue to hire an external trainer.

“From a business perspective, this would represent effectively paying twice for apprenticeship provision, so I would urge all nursery owners or managers who think they may contribute to the Levy fund to double check their status.

“However, even if a setting is not a Levy payer, employers pay just 5% towards the cost of training and assessing an apprentice, which offers excellent value for money.

“Not only that, if a setting employs fewer than 50 employees, the government will pay 100% of the apprenticeship training costs up to the funding band maximum for apprentices aged 16 to 18 – and offer an additional £1,000 incentive. There is also 100% funding available for 19-to-24 year olds with an education, health and care plan provided by their local authority, or who have been in the care of their local authority.

“In my view and for these reasons, apprenticeships are the most cost-effective way to bring new people into the sector.”

Jonathan Plummer, head of early years at Hawk Training and Claire McCarthy, resourcing manager at Co-operative Childcare who work together to deliver training speak about the benefits of using apprenticeships add:

“Our employers benefit from hiring apprentices in many ways. We have seen a great number of apprentices who stay within nurseries, grow within the organisation and become room leaders, deputy managers and managers. Our work with employers and learners is a tripartite relationship, supporting apprentices on their chosen pathway. This may be the management pathway, where apprentices complete their Level 3 early years qualification and then complete a Level 3 in management. Others choose to become the best practitioners they can be by going on to complete the Level 5 early years lead practitioner standard, thereby having a positive impact and influence on their peers.

“Strong employer partnerships are the key to a successful apprenticeship scheme. We regularly engage with the managers and involve them at every stage of the apprenticeship, from the enrolment and initial planning meeting through to the visits and progress reviews.”

In terms of addressing workforce challenges, they add:

“The apprenticeship scheme reduces the skills gap within the sector as the apprentices coming through are consistently gaining the necessary skills required within their job role. Skill scans and initial assessments are completed to ascertain each apprentice’s personal starting point and we tailor their programme based on those results. We take account of prior knowledge and experience and ensure each and every apprentice is purposefully challenged at their specific level.

“Nevertheless, this again leads back to that crucial employer partnership. In order for those skills to be achieved and the needs of the job market met, we need to make sure the right learner is on the right programme. This means completing information sessions prior to new apprenticeship starts so that everyone is clear about their individual role and responsibilities.”

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