Want to find opportunity in adversity? People are key

Justin Rix Justin Rix

We are living through extraordinary times. Disruptive tech innovations, dizzying political upheavals and growing public demand for action on issues from inequality to the environment are all contributing to a landscape of unprecedented change.

As we all look at how best to weather the storm lets make sure the question isn’t how to survive in such a turbulent environment, but what does it take to thrive. We think the answer to that is people.

Uncertainty means increased risks for your business, there’s no getting around that, but change also offers opportunity. More and more business leaders are realising that mitigating one whilst taking advantage of the other means putting people policy first. They understand that the best route to improving diversity, recruiting talent and developing essential skills is putting those goals at the heart of their strategy. What’s more, many of them are using apprenticeships and the Apprenticeship Levy to do it.

That last part might come as a surprise. From our recent survey of UK mid-market businesses1, 45% still don’t know what the levy can be used to do. This is despite nearly two and a half years of paying into it. The reasons why funds are not being used range from uncertainty about the levy’s staying power to concern about its impact on traditional apprenticeships, but perhaps the real culprit is a persistent lack of understanding. It’s telling that the most compelling argument made about the levy to date has been use it before you lose it. There’s an important point in that narrative, but it's a limited one. It’s time we moved the story on.

Changing how you see the levy

The levy isn’t a cost to be leveraged or swallowed. It’s a tool. Whether it’s around for twelve months or twelve years is less important than what it can help you do right now. And what it can help you do right now is a lot.

92% of UK mid-market businesses2 will need skills that don’t currently exist in their workforce in the next five years; 94% know identifying and recruiting new talent is vital for future growth2. We know that if you don’t improve diversity and inclusion, from board level down, you’re less likely to have the right mix of voices and perspectives necessary to spot the next big change on the horizon and, crucially, prepare for it.

The levy isn’t the answer to these issues. Clearly articulated strategy and purpose, a commitment to improving your workplace culture, effective succession planning, these are the real solutions. But the levy can help.

Helping you to deliver strategy

Used tactically the levy can support a huge variety of long-term activity. It can let you upskill within your team whilst offering of in-role development that can help attract and retain new talent. It can help bring in new skills from areas outside of your business and help break the homogeny of your senior management team. Already, levy-funded apprenticeships are allowing non-university graduates to gain professional qualifications previously perceived as unavailable to them which, in turn, makes them more eligible for senior leadership roles. Suddenly there’s a real opportunity to make positive change to the voices in the room at senior and board level and through that change develop the agility needed to thrive in a time of constant upheaval.

The fact is that if the levy disappeared tomorrow it wouldn’t change the issues your business will face or the strategies you put in place to overcome them, but whilst it is here, whilst it is available, the Apprenticeship Levy remains an important tool for bringing your people agenda to fruition.

For more information, please get in touch with Justin Rix.


1 The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) is a survey of mid-market businesses. The results represent the views of 510 respondents from UK companies with turnover between £15 million - £1 billion. The data for this release is from interviews conducted in May and June 2019 with chief executive officers, managing directors, chairperson or other senior executives from all industry sectors. 

People power, fuelling your growth through talent and skills, Grant Thornton UK LLP, 2018 [ 2857 kb ]

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