How apprenticeships can help plug the management skills gap

Written by
Jake Tween
ILM, a City & Guilds Group business

10 Apr 2018

10 Apr 2018 • by Jake Tween

Apprenticeships will help to plug the skills deficit – but only if misconceptions are overcome, argues Jake Tween.

According to the most recent ONS flash estimate, UK productivity is on the rise. But with Brexit on the horizon, British businesses need to make sure they have strong leadership in place to help them navigate the uncertainty ahead.

Worryingly, the UK is in fact facing a serious shortfall of skilled leaders. This is underlined by new research from ILM, which finds that half of employers say that supply of leadership and management talent is being affected by factors such as a lack of talent with the right skills, a lack of available talent in the marketplace and a shortage of candidates willing to take on leadership and management roles.

Just a third of UK businesses are very confident about their long-term supply of leaders and managers in their organisation.

For employers struggling to find the right leadership talent, providing existing employees with formal training is a logical solution. However, businesses may begin to find it more difficult to source the necessary funds, as nearly a fifth (18%) of employers predict cuts in training budgets over the next three years.

In the midst of a seemingly catch 22 situation, apprenticeships might just provide the perfect solution. Yet while misconceptions around what apprenticeships can be used for - and who can do them - are rife, this incredibly valuable route is being overlooked, preventing middle and senior managers from progressing their careers and gaining the essential skills their employers desperately need.

Why use leadership and management apprenticeships

Since the introduction of the new apprenticeships system, training providers, industry bodies and employers have been working together to ensure apprenticeship programmes suit the needs of businesses, industries and the wider economy. And while it’s still a work in progress, the system does provide a useful source of funds from which employers can draw.

Whatever the sector, improved leadership skills are vital to keeping businesses productive and employees motivated. Employers can enrol apprentices on leadership and management courses at a range of levels, which provide learners with theory, knowledge and skills as part of a structured, quality programme, which they’ll be able to implement in their day job along the way – benefitting business and increasing employee engagement.

Rather than being a route into work for young people in technical professionals, apprenticeships today have much wider applications, at every level of the organisation, including training mid- and senior-level managers or leaders.

Stigmas are a barrier to take up

While these apprenticeship programmes offer advantages to both employers and employees, misconceptions and stigmas are holding back mid and senior managers from engaging with them.

According to our research, 58% of employers feel middle and senior managers would be unwilling to be seen as an apprentice, citing the “reputation and image” of apprenticeships and the implication it means they need additional support as reasons for this.

As well as a general lack of awareness of the scope and breadth of apprenticeships, deeply ingrained associations with trade, low wages and a perception that they stall progression, mean that they are being snubbed by those aspiring to seniority.

HR professionals are key to overcoming these hurdles. And if they are successful eligible employers can use the levy as a valuable source of funding to help train and upskill mangers and leaders in their business.

Address misconceptions with information

In order to overcome the stigma surrounding apprenticeships, it's important to start by addressing any misconceptions and making sure your employees are well informed about available apprenticeship opportunities and their advantages. We have found that employees are far more willing to embrace apprenticeships when they see the breadth and depth of what they will learn.

Celebrate training and achievement

If your company culture isn’t one which celebrates training and achievement, in whatever form it takes, it’s time to implement one.

Begin by enrolling directors on a course and encourage them to share their progress internally: staff will see that even an expert can benefit from learning something new.

Management skills are often seen as something people learn through experience; make it clear that they are acquired through training and development.

Be clear about the benefits

Being transparent about the specific skills and abilities fostered in this kind of apprenticeship will underline the value they bring. This is important; it is vital the peers and colleagues of a management apprentice see value in the role – not just the apprentice themselves.

Invest in skills at all levels

Today’s businesses need leadership skills at all levels. Wherever they stand in the hierarchy, every employee should be given the opportunity to develop their leadership skills, improving core skills such as communication, whilst becoming more engaged as they gain more insight and responsibility.

With strong leadership now needed more than ever, it’s vital that businesses and employees adopt an open-minded attitude towards training and see apprenticeships for what they are: a highly effective way for employees at every level to develop the essential skills that businesses require, as well as a quality route for career progression.

ILM, a City & Guilds Group business