Since April 2017, businesses with a pay bill totalling over £3 million each year are required to pay the Apprenticeship Levy. This levy is paid through PAYE and is used to fund apprenticeships and training opportunities across the UK. The aim was to create an additional 3 million apprenticeships in the UK by 2020. A new online apprenticeship platform was launched allowing employers to take control of apprenticeship funding and choose between the many apprenticeship standards and frameworks.
Using the Apprenticeship Levy
If you are a business who pays the apprenticeship levy: you can use the funds in your account to fund apprenticeship training and assessment, so long as the apprentice works 50% of the time in the UK. There are also funding band limits for roles which can be found here, if the apprenticeship cost exceeds this funding band then you will have to pay the difference and any unused funds will expire after 24 months.
If you are a non-levy paying business: you will receive funds through co-investment, with your business contributing 5% and the government funding the remaining 95%, up to the funding band limit. All apprenticeships that started before 1 April 2019 will continue at the previous co-investment rate of 10%.
There is also now the option for levy-paying businesses to share up to 25% of their fund with other businesses including smaller, non-levy paying businesses. This allows groups of companies but also supply chain partners to make the most of unused funds however you do have to clearly outline what apprenticeships they’ll be used for before transferring the allowance. More information on levy fund sharing can be found here.
Why take on apprentices?
Whilst apprenticeship schemes used to be predominantly run by large corporations, SMEs are slowly realising the numerous benefits having apprentices within the business can bring. As many apprentices are school-leaver age they can bring a whole new perspective to a business and reinvigorate the established workforce. They also tend to make more loyal staff as they are trained to your company’s standard and you understand their skill set should you decide to place them in a permanent position.
Not all apprentices are young though, the scope of apprenticeships is changing and businesses are utilising their levy funding to train and develop their existing staff too. With the defined apprentice standards it is easier for companies to identify skills gaps within their workforce and use apprenticeship training to help remedy these. There has been a concerted effort by both businesses and the government to change the perception of apprenticeships and reinforce the fact they are just an intensive form of training and qualification.
Don’t just take our word for it though, we spoke to our apprentices, both past and present, to see how they found their experience undertaking an apprenticeship at ICS.
+ Albert undertook an apprenticeship with the ICS Payroll team before taking a permanent role as a Payroll Administrator. He is currently studying towards his Level 3 AAT course.
+ Unaisha is currently an apprentice with our Business Accounting team. She is studying towards her AAT Level 2.
1. How did you become aware of apprenticeship opportunities?
Albert: Whilst I was doing well with my A levels before leaving sixth form to start my apprenticeship, I disliked the lack of real world skills being taught in the classroom. I felt what I was learning wouldn’t specifically help with anything I’d have wanted to do later on in life. I voiced my feelings with one of my friends at the time, and she suggested that maybe an apprenticeship was something I should consider.
Unaisha: Knowing I didn’t want to go to university but still wanting to work and gain qualifications, after speaking to many career guidance tutors, they recommended the best route I take is an apprenticeship. It was a great idea to kick start my career by gaining real work experience and gaining a relevant qualification alongside the work.
2. Why did you choose to undertake an apprenticeship at ICS?
Unaisha: Knowing how established they are made me more confident about wanting to work with them. The principles they stand by and the ratings they receive made me want to be part of a company that delivers such an excellent service to their clients.
Albert: Lancaster and Morecambe College recommended ICS as a workplace that previous apprentices had found success with. I mentioned that working as an accountant was something that additionally sounded interesting to me, and they mentioned I could move onto my AAT course following the business administration course.
3. If you hadn’t have done an apprenticeship, what would you be doing now?
Unaisha: Looking for one! I feel as though I would be working as I enjoy staying busy. I wasn’t too keen on going to uni as I didn’t feel as though studying separately and working in my spare time made much sense to me and seemed harder in terms of getting a job and relevant experience. I much prefer having a job I know is relevant to my qualifications and studying in my own time.
4. What have you found most beneficial on your apprenticeship?
Albert: By far, it would be the proficiency gained in communicating on the phone, and just generally in an office environment. Whilst it would probably be second nature for most, my skills in customer service and general confidence were severely lacking. Having to talk to clients in a professional manner on a daily basis has helped build these skills from the ground up.
Unaisha: Working in a company will teach you to take responsibility for your actions, how to behave in a working environment and how to be independent in your tasks. This will gain you the respect of your co-workers and employers, giving you the confidence you need to carry out your role as well as gaining so many skills like communication, confidence, adaptability organisation, these are skills I believe are essential for everyday life as well as work and this is one thing I have found beneficial as it helps to build my own character and develop myself further.
5. Has the apprenticeship changed your plans for the future?
Albert: Certainly. Once I’ve finished my level 3 AAT, I now plan on moving onto starting CIMA and eventually working a job in management accounting. Beforehand, I was still trying to find a line of work that appealed to me; I didn’t really have any solid plans.
As demonstrated by the responses of Unaisha and Albert, each apprenticeship, although set against similar framework, will benefit each apprentice in different ways. Whether it is the professional skills needed to navigate office life, an increased confidence in their abilities or a renewed focus on their career plan. These non-tangible skills are just as important as qualifications in securing and succeeding in the job you want, and can only be taught through hands-on work experience and mentoring.
The benefit to the business comes in the form of dedicated workers with an eagerness to learn and develop their skill sets. Both Albert and Unaisha work in customer-facing roles and represent the business on a daily basis. They are also fully integrated with our qualified accountants, allowing them to learn by doing and giving our accountants the opportunity to coach and share their knowledge. This can energise a team as processes get questioned, expertise is tested and team dynamics are strengthened.
If you are still left wondering if apprenticeships are right for you or your business, here's what Peter Jones, entrepreneur, investor and star of Dragon's Den, had to say on the matter: "Throughout my career, some of my best hires have been people who have bypassed the traditional route of university and learned their skills through apprenticeship schemes or alternative education courses."
Further information on how your business can take advantage of apprenticeship levy funding can be found on the GOV.UK website, including the full breakdown of frameworks and standards, plus the new digital apprenticeship service.