Posted by Kim Powell, business development manager at Legal Futures Associate Damar Training
Apprenticeships are a great tool that law firms and legal teams can use to upskill existing employees as well as recruit new team members, with a proven positive impact on staff morale, retention, productivity, and brand image.
If you are new to the world of apprenticeships, here is what you need to know. Please note that this information is for employers in England only. Employers in other parts of the UK should click on the links for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Over the last few years, apprenticeship frameworks have gradually been replaced with apprenticeship standards. This involved a shift in focus from assessing to learning, with the new standards developed by employer-led groups, to better suit the needs of employers and the industry within which they operate.
Each apprenticeship standard has a set of knowledge, skills and behaviours which the apprentice would need to become competent in, in order to achieve their qualification and perform in their job role. Competency is assessed during an end-point assessment, which is conducted by a different organisation to the training provider.
Apprenticeships allow employers to develop new or existing members of staff with on-the-job experience, supported by off-the-job training from a training provider.
Apprenticeships are available at different levels, from 2 to 7 and take at least a year to complete. In general, apprenticeships at higher levels will take longer, with the level 7 solicitor apprenticeship taking five to six years.
For existing members of staff, you don’t need to change the individual’s job title, contract of employment or salary. You will need an apprenticeship agreement, signed by you, as the employer, and the apprentice. There is also a commitment statement, signed by the employer, apprentice and training provider.
There are no age restrictions on who can complete an apprenticeship, other than they need to be at least 16 years old. Prior qualifications don’t necessarily matter either, as long as the apprenticeship training is substantively different to any qualifications already completed and that it will allow the individual to develop new skills.
Some apprenticeships have additional eligibility criteria that are set by the Institute of Apprenticeships, but this is usually only for apprenticeships at level 4 and above.
Employers that pay the apprenticeship levy are able to pay all of the training costs from their apprenticeship levy account. Employers that do not pay the levy, as well as large employers that have spent their levy budget, pay just 5% of the overall cost, with the government paying the balance.
For employers with fewer than 50 employees, the 5% contribution is waived for apprentices aged 16 to 18.
There are, however, numerous other apprenticeship standards which can be effectively utilised within law firms, such as business administration, management, data protection and information governance, accounting and project management.
There are also some providers which offer niche pathways within apprenticeships. For example, at Damar we have a legal administration option which combines the business administrator apprenticeship standard with a number of CILEX units to support the development of more specialist legal knowledge, alongside increasing the individual’s general administration skills, knowledge and behaviours.
Building a successful apprenticeship programme
Integrate apprenticeship training into your workforce development strategy and consider the benefits they could bring to existing members of staff, as well as new recruits.
Conduct a skills gap analysis by identifying the skills which are important to your business and measuring the current skills of your workforce. Conducting an analysis is a particularly good idea if you’re having problems with meeting your company objectives, have changed your strategy or introduced new technologies.
Once you have identified your skills gap, you can prioritise the skills and individuals to develop with apprenticeship training. If you are unsure what your skills gaps are and how to use apprenticeships to improve them, get in touch with a training provider to support you.
Apprenticeships are a great way to support an existing member of your team who gains a promotion. You have recognised their potential; the training will enable them to fulfil it.
In other instances, you might make some changes to an individual’s job role due to restructuring or a change in business direction. This is particularly pertinent at the moment as many companies have had to reduce their staffing levels, resulting in remaining employees taking on more duties to continue moving forward. For example, many managers are now looking after larger, remote teams.
If you are promoting apprenticeship training to your existing employees to generate interested individuals, it is worth considering the messaging carefully. Many people still have misconceptions about apprenticeships – that they are only for trades and school leavers or that they are just low-level qualifications – so they may not realise how the training could help them develop, regardless of their age or job role.
It is advisable to plan the workload of the individual right from the start because an apprenticeship must include 20% off-the-job training. This does not mean that they have to spend 20% of their time off-site but they do need to be undertaking activities that are not a part of their usual day-to-day activity, such as shadowing and special projects, as well as time spent completing coursework or in workshops and meetings provided by the training provider.
Consider if there are any tasks which can be passed on to someone else or if there are times during the day or week when the business is quieter to make the apprenticeship training easier.
During the apprenticeship, make sure there is good three-way communication between the line manager, apprentice and training provider. This will help the apprentice to maintain momentum and to get the most out of the training.
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate the success of your apprentices. Consider holding a (virtual) certificate presentation or featuring the apprentice on your intranet or website. This reinforces how much you value your employee and also promotes the training to others within your organisation.
If you would like to find out more about how you can effectively use apprenticeship training within your law firm or legal team, please get in touch.