February 2021: Apprenticeships are increasingly vital to local government… and the LGA can help you improve your offer

'Build the Future' is the theme of the 14th annual National Apprenticeship Week taking place this month. Jamie Saddler, Apprenticeships Adviser at the LGA, reflects on the importance of apprenticeships to councils, how they can 'Build the Future' of local government, and how the LGA can help with that.

national apprenticeship week logo 2021

National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is always an important date in the calendar for someone in my line of work. It’s a great time to take stock, reflect on (and celebrate!) our successes and consider what more we need to do to give everyone who wants it the chance to become an apprentice. Despite the pandemic, that hasn’t changed. The celebrations we’re sharing with councils across the country might be virtual, but they’re still happening, and the work of deciding where we go from here has perhaps never been more important. 

‘Build the Future’, the theme of this year’s NAW is a sentiment that councils are very familiar with and underpins much of our work. Apprenticeships can be crucial to delivering on that promise and transforming lives in our communities.

But how important are apprenticeships to our own workforce? From talking to councils up and down the country, hearing about their programmes and listening to apprentices’ own experiences I think it’s safe to say the answer is ‘very’.

New levy, new apprentices

The Apprenticeship Levy, though viewed with some scepticism when first introduced, has been a key driver, but so has councils’ determination to get to grips with the opportunities apprenticeships offer to their recruitment, retention and development plans.

Before the Levy was introduced, councils in England created around 6,000 apprenticeships each year. Last year that number had almost trebled to 16,000. In the last three years, a total of 43,000 apprenticeships have been created in 140 different fields.

While the popularity of apprenticeships in local government is clearly on the rise, for councils it’s not about chasing numbers, but investing in people. It’s also about the increasing recognition in the sector of the value apprentices bring to our councils and the positive improvements they can offer.

Rising to the challenge of COVID-19

This has never been more prominent than during the current pandemic. Our apprentices have been forced to adapt to a new normal, transitioning into different ways of working on the job and learning through Zoom.

Like many in our sector, scores of apprentices are adapting to completely new roles, supporting their councils to deliver essential services that might be outside their usual responsibilities. And alongside their colleagues they’ve risen to every challenge the pandemic has thrown at them.

While recruitment of new staff into the sector has slowed in the last twelve months, apprenticeship starts have continued among our existing workforce. Councils have increasingly turned to the qualifications to support staff when they have been redeployed to other areas, upskilling a workforce that has to keep being nimble and flexible.

‘Build the Future’ of your apprenticeships programme – with our help!

And it’s not just current pressures that councils are using apprenticeships to tackle – many are beginning to turn their attention to how apprentices can help them rebuild and renew their workforce and help their communities back on their feet. Local government will have to adapt to new ways of working to do this and apprenticeships can play a big part.

So can the LGA. Through our apprenticeships support programme for councils, we provide templates, tools and guidance on important elements of policy and practice, as well as a mix of direct one-on-one support and external advice. This offer is designed to help councils maximise their Apprenticeship Levy spend and get the highest return on investment possible from their programme.

The cornerstone of our support offer is the Apprenticeships Maturity Model, a self-improvement ‘matrix’ we first developed in 2018. Split into five pillars with four levels, each one is designed to show the typical steps a council needs to take to move through the gears from a standing start (rated ‘Early’ in our model) to a fully-fledged, ‘Mature’ programme.

While councils can (and have) been using the tool to self-assess their own performance, the Maturity Model also forms a key part of our Apprenticeship MOT process – an LGA-run mini review of a council’s apprenticeship programme. Complete with comparative information, an independent assessment against the Maturity Model and recommendations for how to improve, the MOT process is popular with councils. Twenty-five have been supported so far and with capacity to carry out another ten MOTs in the next five months, we hope to see more councils take advantage of this offer.

Spending more Levy locally

We try to keep our support offer adaptable to meet the latest challenges councils are facing. The disruption to apprenticeship recruitment caused by the pandemic has left many authorities unable to spend increasing proportions of their Levy. Government policy means that any funds not spent within 24 months revert to the Treasury. Our latest estimates suggest the sector is returning at least £3m per month (and rising) in unspent levy, so finding ways to help councils spend more of this money locally is a top priority.

That’s where levy transfers come in. Employers can transfer up to 25 per cent of their annual Levy funds to create apprenticeships in other organisations. Through a pilot with Shropshire we have developed a support offer to help councils put a levy transfer policy in place. Support includes facilitating meetings with stakeholders, providing advice and guidance to steer councils through the process and developing a template policy document to share good practice.

Improvements to the levy transfer process are incoming from government over the summer – including an online match-making service that will connect employers that want to make or receive a transfer. That means there has never been a better time to put a levy transfer policy in place.

So if you want to invest in your workforce, start growing your own staff, and explore what more you can do with apprenticeships in both your council and your community don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to see how we can help.

Read more information about the LGA’s Apprenticeships Support Programme. If you want to have a conversation about any of the elements of that offer and how we could support your council, please contact Jamie Saddler at jamie.saddler@local.gov.uk.