The government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy in May 2017. Each year 0.5% of the Council’s pay bill is taken and then returned to us with an additional 10% top up. This fund can only then be spent on apprenticeship training and development. It cannot pay for apprenticeship wages. The idea behind the apprenticeship levy is for employers to assist the government in achieving its aim of increasing the number of people undertaking apprenticeships to 3 million by 2020. Any unspent funds after 24 months will be returned to government.
In addition to this the government have set a target for all public sector bodies, this includes the Council. The target set is 2.3% of our headcount to be apprentices each year. For Leeds City Council (including our maintained schools) this means ensuring we have around 500 apprentices at any one time.
In order to monitor progress against these targets the government require us to submit a return each year.
Actions we have taken to meet the public sector target
The Council has a strong history of recruiting apprentices. Since the Levy was introduced, we have worked hard to create a new corporate Apprenticeship programme linked to workforce development needs with a brand that people recognise. Our improvements to the programme have enhanced the quality of the offer to both new and existing employees undertaking apprenticeships.
This, together with targeted partnerships with 6 high schools from our most disadvantaged communities has seen an increase in apprenticeships by 127% and a retention rate of our apprentices into jobs within the Council of 95%.
The offer is further boosted by the creation of a flexible framework of providers to deliver the training and the introduction of a corporate wide Leadership & management apprenticeship programme satisfying development needs across the organisation. (If this last para is too much this can be deleted).
Challenges faced in meeting the Target
Continued local government budget pressures have created the need for reductions in our workforce and limited the opportunity to employ new apprentices. As the government target is based on headcount, this significantly impacts the council, due to the high number of part time contracts we have. The stretching target and substantial levy pot means the numbers needed to fulfil the requirements dramatically impact on service delivery in an environment where we are already having to do more with less.
The pace at which the new approach has developed has also affected our ability to grow at pace. The slow development of technical standards has in some key sectors and significantly stalled growth particularly in advanced and higher level qualifications. For example the delayed release of schools based apprenticeship standards has meant numbers growing here have not contributed to the numbers in the given timescale.
The culture and focus on skills and development is gaining momentum at the Council and workforce development is regularly highlighted in service plans. Forecasting of apprenticeship numbers is improving and the range of apprenticeships both to new and existing staff continues to grow in both frontline and technical roles. Significant engagement is taking place with schools since the release of the standards and it is expected that there will be further take up of apprenticeships in this sector in the coming months.
At the time of submitting the government return apprenticeship figures within the Council stood at 341 (though only 258 could be reported as the additional started before the Levy was introduced and could not therefore be counted. In January 2019 we hit 632 apprentices, showing a significant growth, this was assisted by the introduction of our Leadership and management programme.
The Council has led work in the city to develop the Leeds Talent and Skills Plan which includes commitments to work with employers and skills providers to meet the aims and objectives of the Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy. This demonstrates our commitment, capacity and capability to meet skills targets for the city in future years.