Are we moving forward with the future talent agenda?

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 May 2015

12 May 2015 • by Changeboard Team

According to the CIPD, 76% of employers now offer some kind of programme aimed at young people, compared with 65% in 2013. Here, we take a look at the work some of the UK’s major employers are doing to grow their next talent pipeline.

The CIPD’s latest Learning to Work report found apprenticeships to be the most well-regarded option in terms of the level of effectiveness at developing employability skills, even above graduate schemes, which 66% of employers rated as effective or very effective. More than two-thirds (70%) of HR professionals believe that apprenticeships are effective in growing young people’s employability skills – perhaps signalling a step-change in the rather outdated perception that vocational qualifications are in some way inferior to degrees.

While the jobless rate among 16 to 24-year-olds is still several times the UK’s overall unemployment rate, there are signs that employers’ attitudes towards young people are shifting.

The percentage of organisations that currently employ young people has increased – now at 79%, up from 73% on the previous year. And more than three-quarters (76%) of employers report that they offer some kind of programme aimed at young people; an increase from 65% of HR professionals who reported this in 2013.

It is great to see that tackling youth unemployment is now firmly on employers’ agendas – with more and more seeing demonstrable success from introducing work experience, apprenticeships and vocational programmes. Employers recognise that engaging with their local communities and growing their own talent is a must to create competitive advantage for the future.


Cathy Lewis, group HR director, Prudential
Cathy joined Prudential UK & Europe in 2009. Prior to this she held director-level HR roles at Co-operative Financial Services, Abbey plc and BAA plc.


Prudential employs around 2,500 employees in the UK, with 5% of this workforce aged 16 to 24. We recognise that youth unemployment and vocational training is a prominent issue in the UK and that structured apprenticeship programmes are increasingly part of the UK’s employment landscape.

We saw we had a part to play in giving young people a foot on the career ladder, and creating an apprenticeship programme would enable us to promote careers in our industry and give young people real opportunities in the workplace. This year we are offering up to 40 apprenticeships. Since the programme launched in 2013, we’ve recruited 90 young people on to it.

Our apprentices’ 16-month development journey sees them work towards an NVQ and industry-recognised technical certificates or another qualification relating to the business area they join. This will enable them to develop a wide range of skills and competencies by exploring the way Prudential is run and interacting with people in the business at all levels.

For us, apprenticeships are about a lot more than just creating full-time roles. We aim to set apprentices up with life skills and a qualification to help them pursue a successful career, wherever they choose. Last year, 66% of Prudential apprentices who completed the programme were offered employment with us. Others chose to continue their career elsewhere or go on to higher education. We see all of these as success stories.

In the first year of the programme, we approached managers to ask if they would be willing to take on an apprentice. Since then, in years two and now three of the programme, the proactive demand from the business has been such that we’re not always able to fulfil it. This was a key factor in us being able to turn what was initially a pilot programme in 2013 into a four-year commitment backed by an investment of £4.1 million.

We are also National Champions of Business in the Community’s Business
Class programme. Through this, we are committed to promoting and providing closer relationships between businesses and schools. Working with local schools across the UK, our employees offer mentoring and employability skills coaching to a number of school children. We also run a summer internship programme for undergraduates.

There’s a definite requirement for business and education providers to work together to better prepare young people for entering the workplace. It’s not just about making sure young people have the right skills; it’s also about giving them a better understanding of all the options available to them when they leave school, which includes vocational routes into employment.

It’s a huge benefit to bring young people into your organisation with fresh ideas and innovation. It’s rewarding, not only for the young people but the employees they work with in your business. Starting an apprenticeship programme does, of course, take effort and commitment, especially in the early months, to get the foundations of the programme right to ensure it’s a success.

You don’t have to be a massive employer to make a difference – even if you’re a small business and can take on only one apprentice, it will make a difference to the young person and your business.

Kwik Fit

Ian Kirkpatrick, group HR director, Kwik Fit Group
A former logistics director, Ian brings many years of people development expertise in a commercial way to promote human capital.


Kwik Fit employs more than 6,000 people across our network of over 600 service centres and around 200 mobile tyre-fitting vehicles in the UK. 16 to 24-year-olds make up about a fifth of our UK workforce.

In recent years we’ve offered around 150 two-year apprenticeships annually – this year we’re offering 200. Most of the two-year apprenticeships are available to 16 to 18-year-olds, providing a valuable first step on a career in the automotive sector. We have trained more than 1,800 people under our current apprenticeship programme. Over the past 15 years the scheme has consistently seen higher success rates than the national average, with many participants progressing to senior levels within the company.

Apprentices are crucial to Kwik Fit as they help shape and develop our future leaders. We make a huge investment in our learning and development programme and deliver more than 18,000 training days a year through our industry-leading training academies.

A Kwik Fit apprenticeship typically provides a total of 91 ‘learning credits’, which favourably compares with the minimum requirement of 60 such credits delivered in a typical equivalent course carried out in a college environment. Apprentices are appointed into permanent roles and receive a structured training mix of classroom theory, workshop practice and on-the-job coaching. This gives them a major advantage over those following a purely classroom-based course and allows them to quickly develop the right skills for a long-term career.

All those taken on the apprenticeship programme are employed full-time by Kwik Fit from day one and all those successfully graduating from the programme progress into qualified technician roles. We have past apprentices managing centres across the country and also those who have gone on to take senior leadership positions within the business.

We don’t stop training or upskilling our employees – they receive a development programme at every level, so it is part of our culture – every member of staff knows the importance of passing on skills to the next generation.

We receive thousands of applications each year and see motivated, ambitious school leavers, as well as those who are not ready to move into a work environment. The reasons why they might not be ready tend to be in relation to their attitude – we believe in hiring for attitude and training for skills. As well as technical skills our programme also includes maths and English to help support those for whom a formal school education was not the most effective way of learning.

We don’t expect young people to arrive knowing all there is to know about the automotive sector. We want them to have the right attitude towards learning the right skills and show an enthusiasm for the sector and customer service. It’s important school leavers are able to show how they work as a part of a team. Therefore, softer social skills are also vital.

We have a clear sense of the need to help the next generation, but it doesn’t really matter whether you feel a responsibility or not, it makes business sense. To be a successful business, you need to be able to relate to, and reflect, your customer base.

Our customers come from the whole population – from young to elderly motorists, male and female, from sports car drivers to those with family hatchbacks. We need to show we understand all the needs of our local communities and the best way to do that is to employ people from those communities.

If you’re thinking of providing apprenticeships, make sure you’re committed to offering proper, structured support and learning programmes and that enough time is dedicated to developing apprentices’ skills. They are not cheap labour, in fact it requires a lot of investment, but the long-term rewards to the business are invaluable.

We will continue to provide apprenticeship opportunities and career paths progressing through the business, not only on the mechanical skills side but also in management. We’re also working with some of our supply-chain partners to deliver apprentice programmes.

A fundamental area of focus needs to be on ensuring that school leavers are fully aware of the opportunities for vocational education as a real alternative to traditional academic routes. For many candidates, earning a salary while learning skills through an employer-based programme could be better than a purely classroom-based route. All those with an interest in developing the skills of young people need to help raise awareness of the availability and benefits of vocational training where education is combined with real work experience across a wide range of sectors.

Hitachi Rail Europe

Julia Potts, HR manager, Hitachi Rail Europe
Julia has 30 years’ HR experience working in manufacturing and FMCG companies. She started work at the age of 16 in a junior admin role.


Hitachi employs approximately 320,000 people globally. Hitachi Rail Europe employs 300 people in the UK. This is set to rise in the next three years to 2,000.

We recognise the value of employing young people and the need to develop skills for engineering, technical and professional roles.

We currently offer between eight and 10 apprenticeships at two sites in the UK. We’re planning to increase this and offer apprenticeships in other areas as Hitachi Rail Europe grows and opens up new sites.

Some of our technical apprentices spend their first year with a local college or training school and then attend one day a week for the next three years. Others spend one day a week at college for the duration of their apprenticeship.

While at work, they follow a structured programme and work alongside experienced employees to develop their skills. All our apprentices to date have been employed on permanent contracts and moved into permanent roles at the end of the programme.

We’ve recently hired young people in a variety of roles. We have recruited junior engineers and an HR assistant who had carried out apprenticeships elsewhere but there was no permanent role for them at the end.

The number of young people ready for work does appear to be improving as schools and colleges recognise the need for employability skills. Hitachi Rail Europe employees support activities with local schools to increase awareness of the expectations of a working environment.

However, there is still work to be done. In my experience, some schools guide students towards subjects that will give the school the best results as opposed to the skills and qualifications that are useful for work. Young people need coaching and guidance but the rewards are huge. They bring enthusiasm and new ideas. It can be difficult for smaller organisations to find out how to develop and manage apprenticeship programmes but there is help from various sources, and it is worth the effort.

We will continue to employ as many young people as possible as our company grows. Where we can see that a young person has the behaviours and potential to match our requirements, we will provide further training to increase
their skill level.

Employers need to devote more time to engaging with schools to help them recognise the value of apprenticeships and not view them as a poor alternative. They also need to continue to educate young people that doing well at school is important to give them an advantage in the jobs market.

Employers need to understand why employing and training young people is essential for future growth, and put programmes in place to support this.


Jane Williams, HR director, Atos
Jane has spent 25 years in HR in a range of roles. She is responsible for the apprenticeship and graduate schemes in Atos UK & Ireland, as well as learning and development and talent management.


Atos employs 86,000 employees in 66 countries, with around 9,000 in the UK and Ireland. We are committed to ensuring we are equipping our industry with trained professionals who will have the skills to take our industry forward. We actively look to recruit around 100 new ICT apprentices across the country each year, between the ages of 16 and 24.

Our apprenticeship scheme was introduced in 2012 in response to a large ICT talent gap among young people. It allows participants to build a career in IT through formal training and development programmes and offers a number of recognised qualifications. The apprentices have had an incredibly important impact on our business, providing the teams they join with a fresh perspective from a generation who are digital natives.

The scheme is designed specifically for Atos, offering a structured programme that takes apprentices through the skills they need to do their job well. There are targets and checks to make sure that we are supporting them and they are making progress towards their qualifications.

As Atos employees, our apprentices are based in the workplace for at least 30 hours per week as most training takes place on the job. The rest will take place at a local college, specialist training organisation or an Atos work site.

Apprentices will complete this off-the-job training over a number of days in a block, with typically six to 12 weeks of training.

From now on, our apprentices are being offered permanent positions from day one. This helps demonstrate our ongoing commitment to securing talent in our sector for the years to come.

One of the main business benefits that our apprenticeship scheme offers is securing us against any perceived ICT skills gaps by maintaining a constant flow of new, young talent through our organisation.

Application modernisation, secure cloud computing and shared services have become pivotal tools across most business sectors and, therefore, the young people we employ on the apprenticeship scheme will have the opportunity to build a promising career in an area where we are committed to growing our business, which will deliver tremendous ROI for us as an organisation.

We understand the value to our business that comes from employing and training young apprentices. It’s part of the ethos of our company and is something the entire business continues to develop. This is also why we implement a ‘buddy system’ for young apprentices, as well as peer-to-peer learning. We have brought in really talented people through our scheme and when we see what they can do, the investment and time involved in their development will have been well spent.

When you recruit people from school, you must consider the support they need to manage the transition to work, so we run a week’s full-time induction for all our apprentices, in addition to the training they receive. Organisations like ours encourage active learning and development throughout a person’s career so they can still learn on the job. Lots of the feedback I get from young people is around how much they enjoy the workplace, especially being in teams of people of different ages and experience levels.

Some young people may not be fully aware of the opportunities open to them outside college or university, for example. There are a number of people who think you can only get an apprenticeship in certain trades and aren’t fully aware of their options.

As part of our apprenticeship attraction campaign we make an effort to liaise directly with schools, and present at careers fairs so that young people understand the opportunities open to them.

We meet regularly with other employers in the IT sector to discuss apprenticeships – to share ideas and best practice and discuss issues we have in common, such as how to get our message across about the exciting careers we have to offer, as well as how to make our sector more attractive to young women – this is because we all get far more applications for our apprenticeship and graduate schemes from young men. The women we recruit do really well, but we’d like more to apply.

We want to grow and develop our apprenticeship scheme in order to ensure its continued success. We also intend to carry on recruiting around 150 graduates a year. We run a number of talent programmes and it has been great to see graduates progressing on to these.

No doubt when they have been here for a couple more years we’ll start to see some of the apprentices we recruited a few years ago doing the same.

A big part of addressing issues around youth employment is to make young people more aware of the range of opportunities open to them and the alternative career progression routes.

We have had feedback from some of our apprentices that when they left school they had low expectations of the opportunities open to them. However, they really value the training they receive at Atos.


Philip Addison vice-president, human resources, Accor 
Philip has been responsible for the design and implementation of the human resources strategy for the country.


Accor employs more than 160,000 people around the world and 5,500 in the UK, in upwards of 100 different job roles. Within our UK network of 208 hotels, we employ 150 apprentices. During National Apprenticeship Week, we pledged to double the number of apprentices in the UK, bringing the total to 300 by the end of 2016. We also offer around 300 work placements each year. We are proud supporters of apprentices as they contribute enormously to our success.

With a large number of hotels in London, we pledged to run the Hospitality Futures programme. This initiative helps young, unemployed people prepare for the world of work and is hugely successful, helping up to 60% of the young people that take part into jobs that otherwise wouldn’t have been available to them.

The programme involves two weeks of work experience and a job interview with Accor or a peer in the hospitality industry. On completion, successful candidates receive a Hospitality Futures certificate and a nationally recognised qualification in food safety and health and safety, which are presented during a graduation ceremony at Accor’s Académie in London.

Candidates are identified through networks that are developed and managed via the Springboard Charity, the local Jobcentre Plus and various referral agencies and voluntary organisations, before being brought together at an open day. They are observed in group activities and one-to-one interviews before being selected to take part in the programme.

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, Accor hosted an Apprentice Day at our London training Académie – to help inspire young people to begin a career in hospitality and encourage them to consider an apprenticeship as a route into the sector.

As part of this, attendees took part in the ‘Big Hospitality Conversation’, a nationwide initiative led by the British Hospitality Association, which brings young people, Accor apprentices and Accor business leaders together to have a unique conversation about the hospitality sector and apprenticeships.

One of the biggest challenges we face in the UK is that young people aren’t always aware of what careers are available to them and there’s a myth that apprenticeships are not a viable route into a career. Apprenticeships are vital as they offer young people an alternative to further education, allowing them to earn while they learn, as well as helping them to reach their career goals.

Statistics from the National Apprent-iceship Service show that 80% of companies that invest in apprentices have reported a significant increase in employee retention, while 81% of consumers favour employers that take on apprentices.

We are proud to invest in all of our employees because, after all, they are the future of our business and the hospitality industry. Since 2012, Accor has invested £2.5 million in training and development in the UK.

We offer a range of opportunities to employees, including young people. The ‘Advanced Apprenticeship (NVQ 3)’, for example, is a 12 to 18-month programme where employees learn the supervisory role of their specialist area (eg: reception, restaurant, housekeeping etc). They also gain a nationally recognised qualification – a diploma in hospitality supervision and leadership – in their chosen field.

On completion, successful apprentices will be fast-tracked to a supervisory level and be on the way to a successful management career within the Accor network.

Successful completion of the programme also paves the way for opportunities to work across a range of hotel brands, both in the UK and internationally.

In our experience many young people have just the right skills we need in our industry – they are passionate, technically savvy and confident. It’s our job to build on these characteristics and give them the knowledge and specific hospitality skills they need to succeed.

Apprenticeships are growing in popularity as an alternative to higher education. They bridge the gap between the classroom and employment, giving young people the opportunity to earn while they learn and gain nationally recognised qualifications.

Businesses must support and invest in young people; the long-term success of Britain depends on having the very best workforce. The rate of youth unemployment is around three times that of the national rate, and we all have a responsibility to address this if we are to avoid having a lost generation.

Many other companies in our sector are contributing to this agenda too. Together with other industry partners, Accor is taking a leading role in the Big Hospitality Conversation.

In addition, we have provided apprenticeship schemes in the UK since 2004 and, during that time, we have supported more than 500 apprentices to achieve their career ambitions. Working with young people is very important to Accor because we truly believe they are the future of our business and the hospitality industry.

If businesses continue to support young people by offering apprenticeship schemes, this can only be beneficial to tackling youth unemployment.

We must convince young people of the exciting opportunities in different industries and encourage them to consider schemes such as apprenticeships as a start to their career.