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The Apprenticeship Levy: how to use it to develop your current and future leaders


The Apprenticeship Levy: how to use it to develop your current and future leaders

by Nigel Girling

Director of Programmes: Leadership & Management at Babington Group, partner of IDG

Nigel Girling of the Babington Group, IDG’s strategic partners, talks about how the Apprenticeship Levy represents the “the single biggest impetus to the development of UK leaders and leadership since the industrial revolution.”

In 2017, the UK made a very significant shift in the way training is funded.

The introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy was designed to ‘encourage’ organisations – especially the larger ones – to significantly increase their focus and spend on developing their future talent by effectively ‘taxing’ them and retaining the resulting fund for investment in training apprentices.

Much has been made of the rights and wrongs of such a levy and the challenges of making it work. Much of that ignores an important impact: UK organisations can, after many years of under-investment, fund the development of many thousands of leaders.

It represents probably the single biggest impetus to the development of UK leaders and leadership since the industrial revolution.

Taking full advantage of this opportunity requires the understanding of two simple realities:

  • The term apprentice now means neither a young person nor a newly-appointed one and means that the fund can be used both to develop existing leaders in their current role and for those exhibiting the talent to be developed as the senior leaders of the future.
  • It gives an organisation the opportunity to create a cohort of highly-motivated and skilled contemporary leaders who can transform the way the organisation leads its people – as long as there are enough of them and they are well supported and mentored within the organisation.

If an organisation partners with the right expert provider who can deliver a transformational programme that engages and inspires their leaders, the impact on performance can be huge. However, it is also possible that the cohort of leaders can, having been inspired, motivated and encouraged to change the world and transform their organisation, find that the culture and prevailing leadership style of the organisation suppresses and negates their ability to change anything. When that happens, engagement and motivation can dissipate pretty rapidly, leaving them deflated and disaffected.

The clear conclusion is this: Any organisation wishing to use their levy to develop their leaders needs to do much more than just commit to a programme.

  • The culture of the organisation needs to be made ready to welcome and embrace innovative approaches and new ideas
  • Senior leaders need to be engaged in the programme too, either as candidates or mentors to the cohort, enabling and supporting their leader ‘apprentices’ to challenge the status quo and implement or trial their ideas
  • The composition of the cohort needs to be carefully chosen, making sure that enough ‘opinion-formers’ are involved to unblock any barriers to leadership and that enough enthusiasm and commitment is there to provide – and sustain – energy and impetus to the whole programme

The 20% ‘off-the-job’ requirement – which means that your cohort needs to dedicate a very significant amount of time and effort to their leadership development – needs to be carefully considered and planned for.

Your leaders need to be able to find the time for their programme, even though much of that should be taken up with reflection, planning and trying new ideas. Partnering with the right expert provider – one that matches your values and desired culture – will make the whole process easier, smoother and more impactful, so choose wisely. If they have strong expertise in leadership and in the provision of great learning materials and e-learning, the 20% requirement is made much easier and will enable your leaders to derive the maximum benefit and return on time invested.

This represents a massive opportunity to attract, develop and retain leadership talent that will take your organisation forwards and give you strong advantages in your market place. It’s a big decision and the biggest advantages will go to the bravest and smartest organisations.

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