Havas Talent Bites event

I’m well behind with event write-ups but thought I’d just get down, in rough form, some of the key takeaways from this event back in October.

It was the first time I’d received an invite and all the presentations were really good.  Apparently the topic of workplace/organizational/employee culture was ‘softer’ than some they’ve had in the past but there was still plenty of good data and takeaways.


  • data, including their own, shows engagement does impact performance
  • improvements to culture and feeling valued more important than increases in pay for engagement

I queried some of the data in terms of cause and effect, for example can you argue share price performance is linked to good engagement scores on Glassdoor surveys or are people using data such as Glassdoor’s to impact their share buying behaviors?  Obviously share buying algorithms are complex but it’s also probably fair to say your company will perform well across multiple metrics if culture is good.

  • data shows importance of transparency, recognition, communication from leadership, solicitation of feedback, listening to feedback

I used Glassdoor a bit when job hunting but don’t think I actually used it when researching my, now, employer.  So the event was a useful reminder to use it as part of the brand positioning, particularly for ‘people’ teams trying to build engagement and a feeling that learning is important [or indeed that learning is work and work is learning].  Indeed a few jobs ago we actively responded to comments on social media about my department – some examples were given in the Q&A where orgs are really joined up on this and actively using gd as a brand platform.


Talked about the transformation of their business and the importance of cultural fit for new hires and bringing existing staff along.  There was discussion around recruiting by attitude and training the skill from there.  Their leadership model aiming to: Align, model, coach, reinforce way forward.

Liked their idea of having staff engage in “Social Fridays” – 30mins every month on how to engage with social.  Hope to snowball from your people into quality recruitment and support transformation.  They are also offering training to non-employee groups, including alumni and those on maternity (which is a great idea).


There were a few snippets, stories and ideas in this that I liked including:

  • The way to portray culture as the connection between the “I” and “we” in the workplace.
  • The point that if you are going to articulate the company’s values and behaviors then you need to reinforce those at every touch point.  Including describing the work of the organization via the behaviors (I doubt many do this very well).
  • Consistent recruitment, including ways to avoid unconscious bias, also important.

Time for a rethink on ‘support’ services?

Starting my London-based career in an ‘Information Services’ team has led to me always having quite an interest in the semantics of support departments. Information has become a hugely overused term since then, closely associated with the ‘Knowledge Economy’, as business and academia have worried about the growth of technology and overload of web content in the last 20 years.  However, whilst information teams have often dwindled in the face of ‘free’ material on the open web other support services continue along.

At a CILIP event about 5 years back there was an agitated former Institute of Information Scientists member who was furious at perceived continued dumbing down, in other words, a focus on libraries rather than information science. The challenge, of course, is that ‘information’ is a term largely usurped by technology, either as IT or ICT. In this respect the BCS and other groups have usurped the second I in CILIP and there were valid opinions expressed that the CILIP renaming debacle could of done worse than to embrace the old ‘Library Association’ moniker. However, the risk with this would be to alienate members, such as myself, who have long moved on from physical spaces whilst still using an information orientated mindset (I tend to avoid ‘skills’ here as I fear that might be over-egging my pudding!).

So if “information” has become synonymous with technological solutions and support departments what for those with an information mindset?  In many cases they will be found embedded within another traditional department such as research, HR, marketing or training/learning. They may (like me) or may not have formal academic credentials in these areas but do have the option of engaging with professional bodies and potentially seeking professional status such as MCILIP, CMALT, etc.

Of course the challenge is that in ‘knowledge’ (and many other) roles ICT solutions are essential, and I include the C to recognize the role of communication and collaboration tools.

So what of all these support teams? Well, whilst ICT and the currently vogue ESN have tried to break silos they often still exist.  This often is not helped by the splits to C-Suite reporting across various groups including COOs, Heads of People and (of course) the CIO.

What I’m going to suggest today though is that disciplinary focus doesn’t help. Instead let’s pick the best elements to create a single support structure. But what to call it? Well how much your (and I’m largely talking office based support here) support make up of your workforce will impact.

However let’s adopt “Productivity and Performance”. In this model, Ullrich-esque HRBPs can become performance consultants and help identify where things need to improve and have full scope of measures (finance and other data) versus solutions (digital solutions for marketing and learning), etc.

Obviously organisations will vary but it’s starting to feel like claiming the ‘productivity’ name is a solution – as recognised by Microsoft, Apple and others who recognise software by that name. Indeed if one looks at the latest top 100 tools for learning many are not ‘learning’ specific but productivity/office focused. Many on this list would appear for a lawyer, finance, marketing and other pros.  Let’s recognize the value in the tech and bring together the support staff with different mindsets, strengths and expertise.

Apprenticeship changes: reflections thus far

I’ve drafted a few brief reflective pieces for the site of late – only for referendums, snippets of policy and other articles to make me pause and reflect again.  This is an attempt to capture some of the excellence points being made about apprenticeships as the future for UK (well English) skills development (as well as linking back to old articles on the topics).  I’m well aware that elements will be made out-of-date between typing and publication!

In summary, it is hard not to feel we are in the middle of a seismic shift, akin to the Blair years’ promise of 50% Higher Ed attendance and the earlier end of polytechnics.

Whilst partly being driven by (and carried along in the tsunami of) Brexit news – the potential implications and the importance of the changes to Apprenticeships are also being drowned out by the huge stories in Europe, Syria, America and elsewhere.  This is a shame as whilst the potential for new Grammar Schools has managed to grab headlines, the apprentice changes have struggled to.  This is particularly striking considering the levy policy largely amounts to Government intervention in workplace people development and, therefore, a potentially more important change.  This is especially so for a Conservative government that continues to talk of free trade opportunities whilst having changed minimum wages, pension laws and other cost of business regulations.

Reflections on the emergent policy

The Apprenticeship Levy and related policies (or at least information on them) have been delayed at virtually every stage.  This is not helped, as anyone who has tried to work through the process will find out, that the related gov.uk pages have no real help, support contacts or feedback (beyond formal consultations).  I know it is better than it used to be, as they aim to move to the one site, but there are still plenty of errors on existing sites (see image from an example link on the Skills Funding Agency registration process).

Ultimately, there seems to be a shift from the government or individuals deciding ‘whose education is it anyway?’ to what business and employers determine is appropriate.  However this is within a government structure of shifting the financial cost to business in return.  Yet discussion continues over if some form of central linking of growth strategy and apprenticeships is needed, independent of the market forces of employer led levy policy.


Dead-links from the Skills Funding Agency website

Reflections on the impact on Higher Ed

As this opinion piece from the OU on CIPD.co.uk and a previous post from me suggested, the levy offers L&D departments a huge opportunity.

The challenge may be more for universities.  With a clear challenge on how to keep relevant when charging huge fees.  To massively simplify – why would anyone want to study for 3 years for £40,000+ of debt when you could get an equivalent qualification whilst working?  Whilst the American Dream has been challenged as unattainable (as you can no longer work your way through college – but the universities and other interested parties dont want you to know that), apprenticeships are effectively challenging the ‘traditional’ UK model that started to take shape pre-Blair and was accelerated by his administrations.  Universities are going to have to become more responsive and imaginative in the design of degree-level apprenticeships.

If we accept there will be a (re)balance in the future between apprenticeships and degrees, then we also have to consider the nature of the labour market.  HE fees have discouraged mobility (encouraging people to stay and study at home) and social mobility in applications to ‘top end’ unis from lower income families.  Yet similar mobility challenges are being raised with apprenticeship changes.

Whilst a university education allows mobility, albeit I am an example of someone who chose a location for my undergraduate university (in part) as it was relatively close to home and cheap, there is the question of social value versus gaining efficiency through competition.  Of course, UK HE has some approaches that make entry to the market difficult (and better use of economies of scale, perhaps through mergers, could be made).  JISC could, for example, support degree apprenticeships through technology in a way that would be difficult for employer providers.

Fundamentally, there is also the question over why universities have failed to adopt wider competency models.  The US focus on competency based education in HE has shifted the model somewhat towards a more broken down skill profile assessment, akin in some ways to our apprenticeships.  Inevitably UK HE will have to move away from the vagueness of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class degrees.  Of course a lot of this is not new, I even presented on related issues at a conference in 2010.  There were also sessions on competency based learning beyond the standard curriculum at the same conference.  You have to presume that changes to traditional degree models will be accelerated by the ‘competition’ with new apprenticeships.

And to the future…

The arguments over graduate skills (or lack there of) will continue.  The shift to the Levy means employers paying to the levy have three real options it seems to me:

  1. do nothing – accept the loss as a tax
  2. work with vendors – accept apprenticeships as your career development pathways but also accept the “loss” of the levy money
  3. employer provider route – try and claim back the money whilst doing apprenticeship programmes yourself.  Comes with the highest risk (including dealing with Ofsted) but potentially highest rewards.  Risk is also associated with continuing lack of clarity, not least over assessment standards.

Another area where questions remain is if the target of three million apprenticeships will bring down quality.

Option 3: Employer providers

A key feature to the planned changes with the apprenticeship policy, throughout the planning, has been the promise of a shift to them becoming (more) ’employer led’.  There will be less of an education-sector focus in their organisation, especially in the change to allow people to be an apprentice at a lower or equal level to past qualifications (a big change).

The summer’s raft of announcements, typically made when I was on holiday, seemed to suggest (yet further) that becoming an ’employer-provider’ is a Good Thing for employers.  Questions remain though and I was personally turned down for the pilot of the apprenticeship funding website – again you could probably argue that giving some companies the early access and others not is, again, interventionist and potentially a help to some companies over others in competitive environments.  Yet confidence with the levy seems to only be possible if you think the current government will be in power for a while at least, opposition being in place from across the benches of the commons albeit sometimes ignoring the levy altogether.  Yet the government has continued to tinker with the planned new structures in the face of some of this opposition.

The presumption seems to be that larger employers, who already have L&D resources, can consider the provider route.  This makes sense, not least as apprenticeships focus on learning across the 70/20/10 spectrum.  However, the enforcement of L&D teams working within rules they might not have worked on themselves (depending on if they worked on the standard or not) will be a challenge to many – not least when there has been such a focus on informal elements and recognising the value of learning achieved away from credentialing (this also being part of the challenge for HE). There have also been lots of questions over supporting smaller companies in supply chains (aka ‘extended enterprise’) and the need to apply as a full provider to train other companies’ staff may be too much of a logistical burden for many organisations.  However, again, there is potential here for L&D departments to really transform their position within their organisations and their relation to partner companies.

Indeed the options for what levy money can be used for, by employer providers, are quite comprehensive:

“Employer-providers will be able to use funds in their digital account to pay for the following: • training to achieve the apprenticeship, which could include qualifications, elearning (as part of a broader training package), vendor qualifications • registration, assessment, materials and examination • administration related to the delivery of the apprenticeships. • accommodation for residential trips if necessary for all apprentices to achieve • costs for use of premises where these are used for the apprenticeship • wages and associated costs (such as pension and National Insurance contributions) for employees directly involved in the delivery of the apprenticeship.”

and it is difficult to see quite how the government will regulate and audit against ‘misuse’, even if their attempts are mostly logical:

“To claim eligible costs, employer-providers are required to input the price of these costs on the digital apprenticeship service and through the Individualised Learner Record. As detailed below, employers must retain evidence of these costs. This evidence may be requested as part of the SFA’s audit and assurance checks.

They won’t be able to use it for: • costs that are the employer’s responsibility, for example health and safety requirements, wages, travel, commercial choices (e.g. CSCS cards) • wages for line managers or other colleagues supporting the apprentice 16 • wages of the apprentice • profit or employee bonuses • capital purchases • more than one apprenticeship at a time for an individual apprentice • re-taking qualifications or assessment where no additional learning takes place • apprentice recruitment • anything that has received other government funding (for example European Social Fund)”.

The 20% rule

Historically the opposition to apprenticeships has often focused on the 20% rule:

“All apprenticeships must include 20% off the job training. It is up to you to decide at what point during the apprenticeship the training is best delivered (for example, one day a week throughout, 1 week out of every 5, a proportion at the beginning, middle and end). This will depend on what is best for your organisation and the apprentice. You need to ensure that all apprentices receive all of the training.”

To myself, as an L&D person, this sounds awful and in opposition to the wider potential of workplace learning and on-the-job ‘training’.  Indeed I chose to focus on this point when commenting on the Learning and Skills Group Forum a while back.  The noise seems to be that this can be more flexible than it has perhaps been in the past.


Overall, there remain many grey areas over how the FY17 model will work but the support being given to apprenticeships does seem to be hugely important and something for all L&D departments to consider in their strategies – even if to say the ‘brand’ of apprenticeships (one of the outstanding issues according to the CIPD) still isn’t strong enough to work for them.  Many useful links still haven’t made it into this reflective piece so I may well add to the comments.