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Solve three key challenges with the Apprenticeship Levy

Justin Rix Justin Rix

Myths about the Apprenticeship Levy persist. 56% of the UK mid-market still believe the Levy is designed for employees at the beginning of their career, while 42% think its focus is on new recruits1.

What they miss is that the Levy covers apprenticeships at all levels and, more importantly, that it can help you engage with three of the biggest issues your business can face - skills development, diversity and inclusion, and talent retention. Grant Thornton has been involved with the development of the Apprenticeship Levy since 2015 and is committed to shifting perceptions around what we believe is an invaluable tool for UK organisations, particularly concerning these three key areas:

Skills development

We know 92% of UK mid-market businesses will need skills that don’t currently exist in their workforce in the next five years2. According to our recent research, 56% of organisations have begun to use the Levy to fill these skills gaps by investing in their existing workforce1.

Luton Borough Council is equipping its workforce with key leadership skills. For one, Abid Quershi loves working for the Council, but recently realised he wouldn’t progress through the organisation without extra qualifications. Using the Levy, the Council enrolled Abid on our Executive MBA apprenticeship programme in partnership with the Cranfield School of Management. Abid graduates next year and is very optimistic about securing a promotion that he says he wouldn’t have even been able to apply for without the EMBA.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy. As Abid says, “Time was one of the biggest concerns for me,” apprenticeships are a commitment and need “a lot of time management between work, university and family”. Crucially, apprentices also need the support of their line managers. Abid describes his as simply “vital” to his success.

It’s a point echoed by Heidi Mulvey, head of community engagement for Cambridge University Press. She understands that apprenticeships are a “huge opportunity, but a big commitment” and “need absolute endorsement from line managers”. To get it, Heidi and her team invited training providers into the business to talk to line managers and cohorts about exactly what was being offered and the level of commitment that was being asked for from their colleagues.

Diversity and inclusion

More and more companies now understand the commercial imperative for improving diversity and inclusion, and how it can support the growth of their business. What might be less clear is that the Apprenticeship Levy can help.

CJ Bedford, an associate director in our people advisory team, told us that, since the Levy was introduced, Grant Thornton has focused on broadening its talent pool, so we have greater diversity of thought and are better able to serve our clients' needs. We have used it as a catalyst to remove barriers in recruiting talent. “University is amazing, but it’s extremely expensive, meaning many people just can’t afford it. Apprenticeships allow people, no matter what their background, to earn and learn at the same time, gaining qualifications without the costs,” she said.

As a firm, part of our strategy has been to use the Levy to embed social mobility and diversity into everything we do, with a particular focus on our school-leaver and graduate intake. Building on a bold, pre-Levy initiative to remove academic entry requirements for our trainee programmes, we now actively target areas where further education may seem out of reach and provide coaching for all candidates in advance of their interviews to create a level playing field. It’s a holistic approach, requiring long-term commitment, but one which is already seeing results.

What’s more, the flexibility of the Levy means that you can use it strategically to enable diversity and inclusion objectives at all levels of the business. 43% of mid-market Levy users agree that they had deployed it in this way, including for top talent.

Senior development and talent retention

ABM, which provides facility service solutions across the UK, has used the Levy at every level of its business. Kirsty Read, ABM’s learning development co-ordinator, drew on her background at a training provider to create a full apprenticeship catalogue of both full- and part-time courses, ranging from technical skills to leadership and management. She said: “Working with Grant Thornton’s people advisory team, I was able to present a clear business case to the ABM board, demonstrating the commercial benefits of structured, continued professional development and highlighting the ability to use our Apprenticeship Levy pot to fund it.”

ABM has since enrolled 23 mid-senior managers on our leadership programmes, offered in partnership with the Activate Business School, with a further eight applications pending. Longer than the courses that were previously available and coupled with coaching support, Kirsty hopes the programmes will build managers’ confidence, enabling them to lead staff more effectively.

Heidi at Cambridge University Press sees the Levy as an opportunity to hold onto the best people. “We need our talented people to see a future here and want to stay with us,” she notes. What’s more, Heidi sees the career development that the Levy supports as an essential part of attracting new expertise too: “we can’t rely on reputation alone”.

The Apprenticeship Levy is a versatile tool, which set alongside a clearly defined business need, can be used to deliver outstanding results on a wide range of issues. If you’re not currently using yours to help deliver strategy, you’re missing a trick.

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

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