Taking apprenticeships to the next level

Businesses in Greater Manchester looking to help ambitious employees climb the career ladder can take their training schemes to a new level thanks to a multi-million pound Government funding pot and one of the north-west’s leading training providers.

Damar Training is already delivering higher level apprenticeships in management and accounting and is pushing for similar qualifications for the legal sector, in each case in response to calls from employers keen to offer more advanced training for staff who show the potential to excel.

The Government has also recently announced its intention to fund 10,000 advanced and higher apprenticeships and has set aside a £25m higher apprenticeships fund which is aimed, in particular, at encouraging businesses in high growth sectors to take on higher-level apprentices.

Jonathan Bourne, managing director of Damar Training which works with law firms, accountants, local authorities, NHS trusts and small and large private firms across the north-west, said: "There is still a perception among some employers and the general public that apprenticeships are for learning the skills required for a first entry-level job. In fact, apprenticeships are available for people of all ages, in a wide variety of job roles, at different levels of their career.

"Higher apprenticeships are ideal for those employees who have shown that they have the ability to progress to roles that require management or high-level technical skills but who do not have a university education. For employers, they can be an alternative to or can complement a traditional graduate training scheme."

He added: "Employers that we work with have noticed that there are increasing numbers of talented and ambitious would-be apprentices who are ready to take on responsibility quickly and have the potential to rapidly advance up the career ladder. Employers are looking for advanced and higher apprenticeship courses so that they can help their most promising staff to progress."

In particular, Damar is currently working with several law firms which are keen to offer opportunities to young people to join their firms as apprentice paralegals. In the sector at present there is a combination of funded, nationally recognised apprenticeships, primarily at entry level, alongside higher level qualifications that are delivered purely commercially. The latter are costly and so are out of reach for many smaller employers in the sector. Damar is working with employers and examination bodies to ensure there is a suite of nationally recognised apprenticeship qualifications that attract at least some Government funding right up to qualified lawyer status.

Advanced and higher level apprenticeships have been available in accountancy for some time now and are very popular. Damar has worked for several years with Bunzl Healthcare, part of worldwide distribution group Bunzl plc, supporting its accountancy apprentices. Here, progression and long term retention are seen as key benefits.

Simon Caton, from the Care Shop, a trading division of Bunzl Healthcare, said: "The benefits of encouraging staff to take up further training have been excellent . Many learners have progressed their careers and achieved promotions internally because of the skills and knowledge they have gained through learning.

"Another great benefit has been the retention of staff not only for the duration of their apprenticeship but afterwards too which helps us reduce our staff turnover and recruitment costs."

Mr Bourne said he was pleased that the government is actively encouraging the development of higher apprenticeships and said he expected changes to the higher education system would drive up demand for higher-level apprenticeships.

"With university tuition fees due to rise from next autumn, many school leavers are looking at the alternatives and higher apprenticeships increasingly look like a good career bet," he said. "While it is likely that employers will have a much larger pool of graduate-calibre candidates to choose from when recruiting, to ensure they can recruit the best, employers will have to show that they can offer a clear route for progression so that employees can progress from their first job to as far as their ambition and skills allow."

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