The hype around the Apprenticeship Levy introduction caused organisational panic. Big businesses didn’t want to pay it and felt that it was unfair. Government promised you’d get more out than you put in. There then followed a stampede to get programmes started and make sure Levy funds didn’t go out of date. Getting programmes started is easy but getting them right is much more difficult. The 20% off the job learning element has been a constant worry for many with myths, escalating concerns and compliance solutions feeling like they are just adding to the burden. The great news is that we now have solutions that will work for all stakeholders.

There are some great examples of how the 20% has been approached in other industries such as retail travel. In this setting there are frequent product update workshops and supplier events. These are key learning opportunities for apprentices and this time counts towards the 20%. In the same way, when a manager or colleague is demonstrating a sales process or transaction then the apprentice is an observer and that also counts. Other great ways of accumulating time toward the 20% are attending meetings with their manager or colleagues, and spending time in other departments to understand more about what they do and how they work. Essentially anything apart from the apprentice doing their own job unassisted is a learning opportunity…but you must record it and show what's been learnt. Capturing this information can be a challenge but does not have to be a manual process for the business. There are some digital systems that can not only make this process simpler, but can also be used to enhance the apprentice experience which will also help retention and develop talent through access to digital skills modules and digital mentoring, and once again, this counts towards the 20% off the job, so a win-win on all counts.

There are also many other factors to consider such as, if you have skills shortages, or need new people, you’ll need to invest time making sure your programme’s as good as it can be. You’ll need to look at who you’re letting take the places. Get it right, and you’ll benefit from an influx of motivated and energetic people that are keen to learn and help drive your business forward. Get it wrong, and you’ll end up feeling that apprenticeships don’t work. Just to be clear, apprenticeships do work very well when you put in the effort to make sure that they do.

The decision to offer apprenticeships makes great business sense. It’s essential that you focus on the “Why”. So, what is the “why” for your business? Is it the need for new skills, more people, talent attraction? Once you get the story right and gain buy in and support from internal stakeholders specifically senior and line managers, everything else will follow.

Andy Smyth is the Chair of the City & Guilds Industry Skills Board as well as a leading L&D and talent consultant, currently working with MyKindaFuture to help employers retain and develop their apprenticeship talent, plus evidence the 20% off the job using smart technology. To contact Andy about this article, send an e-mail to:

Working together with our hand-picked provider partners, BRC Learning offers high quality leadership and management apprenticeships tailored specifically for the retail industry. Find out more here.