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Many public sector employers still grappling with apprenticeship issues

New research has analysed the effectiveness of apprenticeships across the public sector workforce

Dental students classroom

A new report by researchers at King’s Business School and commissioned by the Office of Manpower Economics, explores the impact of apprenticeships on recruitment and retention in the public sector. The report focuses on the workforces covered by the public sector pay review bodies for Primary and Secondary School Teachers, The Armed Forces, Police Officers and National Health Service (NHS) staff.

The research comes in the wake of recent national policy developments including the introduction of an apprenticeship levy and apprentice targets, designed to encourage the growth in apprenticeship numbers across the economy. These developments have made apprenticeships increasingly central to workforce management in the public sector. The researchers found that across the 4 workforces the approaches to apprenticeships were uneven:

Teaching: The use of apprenticeships is fractured and disconnected, with this form of training gaining little traction to date in teaching.

Armed Forces: Apprenticeships are deeply embedded within the armed forces, able as a consequence to take the recent changes to apprenticeship training in their stride.

Police: A degree level apprenticeship has become a key vehicle for recruiting police constables particularly in the context of the government’s uplift in police officer numbers. However, as police forces introduce this apprenticeship at speed and scale challenges are arising in developing the necessary infrastructure and resources to support this model of training.

NHS: In the NHS apprenticeships are used less to recruit new, young employees and more to develop career opportunities for existing employees. NHS Trust engagement with the local union representatives in management of apprenticeships remains patchy, while Trust capacity to spend their levy and provide the necessary supervisory support for apprentices remains problematic.

More generally across all four Pay Review Bodies there are shared challenges and concerns including:

  • Resourcing the extended time apprentices now spend away from the workplace on training.
  • Developing the necessary number and type apprenticeship standards required to engage their respective workforces.
  • Organising the new apprenticeship end point assessment in a timely way.
  • Given the cost of apprenticeships, being able to fund and support non-apprenticeship training, for example continuing professional development.
  • Being able to fund apprenticeship infrastructure costs given that the levy can only be spent on the apprenticeship training itself.

Ian Kessler, Professor of Public Policy and Management and lead researcher said: "If these challenges are resolved, apprenticeships have the potential to upskill the current workforce and provide new career pathways feeding into hard to recruit or shortage occupations. Apprenticeships also impact the retention of staff through providing new and enhanced career opportunities for existing employees, but also through improving the quality of working life of other employees as upskilled colleagues relieve them of workplace ‘burdens’ and in so doing reduce inclinations to quit.”

A more regulated approach to apprenticeships has encouraged a degree of planning around associated issues and prompted policies and practices designed to improve and develop vocational training. However, the regulatory requirements underpinning the new apprenticeship model have also brought organisational challenges and pressures. – Ian Kessler, Professor of Public Policy and Management and lead researcher

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Ian Kessler

Professor of International HRM