QA Talent Lab: Jan 2018

“Apprenticeships, apprenticeships, apprenticeships” – what many a person involved in learning will have been hearing about for the last couple of years.  Yet the changes in England (that took place last May) are still really to bed down and the audience in the room for this event obviously had mixed perceptions still.  This variation is, in part, due to the variety of ‘traditional’ roles impacted by the changes and the room was clearly a mix of corporate HR generalists, L&D practitioners, apprenticeship specific staff, QA’s team, etc.

Both client case studies (Capgemini and Royal Mail) made it clear that for apprenticeships to be a success you really need a wide variety of people involved to be a success – and both cases showed CEO/leadership commitment was key due to the fundamental change apprenticeships are for many organisations.

In the evening after this event I had dinner with my family and it was interesting to explain the levy to my dad (who worked for Royal Mail for many years and was, once upon a time pre-RM, an apprentice) and my brother who is now based in New Zealand.  The levy immediately made sense to my dad – “well the companies used to pay for them” and that shift of responsibility for skills development really is what it is all about to me.  It’s time to stop complaining about the skills shortages and actually do something about it – in combination with school partnerships, innovative qualifications, etc etc.

This was my first (the 3rd overall) Talent Lab event (around 60 people in attendance) and it was a really useful day in the current ‘bedding down’ period of the new apprenticeship rules.  The main items from the TL agenda were as below, with some of my rough notes and reflections as bullets below.

  1. Why? Creating the business case and understanding the context we work in.
    Rebecca Plant: Head of Apprentice Solutions, QA

    1. This focused on the ‘why?’ of taking on apprenticeships and introduced some QA resources around “10 killer questions to kick-start your apprenticeship programme”.
    2. In summary it came down to “is this a good use of my time?”: for the apprentice and the company – both need to be getting out of what want, i.e. skill development to solve business issues.  Not about spending levy for the sake of spending levy (hopefully people are not in that mindset but no doubt some companies will be).
    3. Expect quality of apprenticeship to be increasingly the focus, with data to back that up, now the Institute for Apprenticeships is up and running.
  2. Royal Mail Group – Why it matters to us.
    Gareth Jones

    1. 1:185 people employed in the UK work for the RM group (160,000 total) so huge levy fee but also huge opportunity.
    2. RM have put together a small team (5 people) to develop apprenticeship offer, to increase capability in-house whilst changing culture as potentially means big increase in young people in the workforce and opportunity to tackle issues such as low % of BAME representation in workforce.
    3. Currently they have c.100 apprentices (this was good to hear from my perspective as we’re not too far off that number yet with a much smaller workforce).
    4. CEO had committed to all vacancies being apprenticeships – has scaled back slightly now to “all relevant” roles.
    5. They have worked with the unions to get them on side – unions recognizing this is a potential way for RM to massively invest in their members.
    6. Challenges include non-England workforce (c.15%) and developing comparable options (again similar to us).  Also missing suitable standards and EPA orgs in some areas.
    7. Again similar to my experience, they have been through procurement challenges and now balancing QA with other providers, trying to manage nationally where (historically) it was a mixed bag of some regions being engaged with colleges, some not at all, etc.
    8. Some really interesting figures were shown, that I don’t think I had seen before, that showed how strong the 25+ age group is in apprentice start numbers.  Will be useful to reuse to try and finish off that misconception internally.
  3. Executing the Why?
    Anouska Ramsay: Talent Director, Capgemini

    1. A longer history, with apprentices a focus pre-levy.  Basically have managed to move away from graduate heavy hiring schemes to more of a balance with apprentices as a leading organisation in development of degree apprenticeships.
    2. Again a lot of drive was from CEO – aim to re-onboard roles to UK, via apprentices, as way to avoid skills gap and decrease reliance on India.
    3. Looked at the wide range of people that need to be involved, including:
      1. learning and development (be ambassadors for the programmes),
      2. business teams (finance and line managers particularly key),
      3. students (i.e. need to ‘sell’ that apprenticeships are a good thing, not only for men, not about trades but also highly skilled IT roles, etc),
      4. HR (how formalize pay, progressions, etc – as rules change ensure stay in line).
    4. Started small with 24 in 2011.  The big ‘sell’ was that it is a debt free way into work.  Now c.380 on programme(s).  Had a team of 2 to support, now 4/5.  Business deals with pastoral care but escalate to them as needed.
    5. Admitted some pain points – like one total misuse of an AMEX by an apprentice (leading to major policy rewrite) but overall a success.
    6. Recommend attendees get involved so everyone’s voice is heard, e.g. with “apprenticeship boards” – she is on digital (, although trailblazer groups are difficult!
    7. Retention is good but do loose some, in part as realize not the career for them and just move to different role internally – first degree cohort had 50% graduate.
    8. Not just about degrees for them – also, for example, Level 4 cyber.
    9. Realized need to “constantly evolve recruitment” – still have grad programme but have clear “two doors into organisation”.  Find grads tend to have more life experience than new apprentice but apprentices up-to-speed in c.6 months.  Selection still done in-house rather than using training provider.
    10. To achieve the EPA standard they use internal job rotations.
  4. Data & the Why?
    Discussion & Networking

    1. A considerations of data requirements, on my table this included:
      1. what we need to capture for targets/government.
      2. what we can do to ensure recruitment correct and then people are competent to deliver the role.
      3. how to measure financial savings, for example from staff and agency cost savings.  Interesting point here about making apprentices non-location specific and brought in expecting to move locations.  Then can be used to fill holes – if they are a project management apprentice, business admin support, etc.
      4. to avoid resistance to “grow our own”, for example in high skilled IT roles, be harsh: reduce budgets for contractors to force apprenticeships.
      5. track as cost vs offshore vs alternative (agency, contractor, etc).
      6. how measure utilization of apprentice – i.e. track what doing in the 80% not just 20% to demonstrate value.
    2. The round robin of tables, predictably, got onto ROI.  I thought it very interesting that, of all companies, the Microsoft attendee (58 current apprentices) shot this down quite quickly: instead saying their focus is on the opportunity it offers for people and the impact/benefit on people will come from those case studies as numbers grow.
      1. Speed to productivity was another measure brought into conversations.
      2. Another table (perhaps drilled in the way of KP) mentioned “indicators” and the need to both reflect and keep across in real time a number of metrics to show benefits – including retention.
      3. There was also the view that year one is always going to be hard and generally companies get better in support of apprentices as time goes on.
    3. Sticking points around the room included getting organisations to be better at workforce planning and HR systems that are not built for the kind of data that is useful to track on apprenticeships.
  5. BAME apprenticeships
    1. Presentation from Isa Mutlib of the Asian Apprenticeship Awards and BAME Apprenticeship Alliance on the continuing misconceptions in BAME communities and the impact (i.e. low take up) on apprenticeships.
    2. Another area with big opportunities: with the groups currently underrepresented yet a bigger part of under 18 group than previously so should be an increasingly important demographic for early career hires.
    3. Are lots of other focus areas that crossover – such as Women in STEM, Women in Tech, etc.  Overall familiar messages about needing to break some stigmas, better inform career choices and break obsession with universities as main route to work.

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader ( and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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