Making the apprenticeship levy work

Guest post by Sally Swift, head of legal support services at national law firm Browne Jacobson

Swift: We need a new breed of lawyer

As we approach a year since larger employers started to pay the apprenticeship levy, there is no doubt that figures produced by government show that the number of apprenticeship starts are below those in previous years.

However, with such large-scale change to policy, a slow start should be no surprise: employers are confused and still getting their head around the complexity of the levy. The target of three million new starts by 2020 is achievable, if employers and training providers work together as partners to make it a success.

With the introduction of employer trailblazer groups, businesses are able to take more control and they should be doing so. By working closely with experienced training providers and seeking expert guidance on how to use their levy, there are so many reasons why employers should see the levy as a catalyst to creating a skills windfall.

Having the opportunity to develop existing and new people, without the boundaries and restrictions previously in place with apprenticeships, is an exciting time for learning and knowledge development.

The apprenticeship reforms were introduced to put quality at the forefront of training and skills improvement and to give employers more control over developing their workforce.

At Browne Jacobson we have been doing just that, as members of the legal trailblazers working party and steering group, we were at the start of creating new robust standards for future lawyers to study.

Our existing legal apprentices follow the paralegal standards and our plans for 2018 include recruitment of a further 12 paralegal apprentices in September, together with developing many of our own teams by offering apprenticeships in business administration, first-line management, chartered manager degrees and senior leaders master’s degrees.

It is definitely true to say that the new apprenticeship reforms are confusing and this is why many employers and law firms are simply topping up their DAS account each month but not investing a penny of the levy in their workforce.

Taking this approach is worrying and certainly will do nothing to bridge the skills gap and create our workforces of the future.

With such an unsettled economic climate, now more than ever, is the time to invest, to create and strengthen our businesses. We should be developing skills, knowledge and experience to continue to challenge the ever-changing legal landscape. 

Clients and consumers of legal services have ever increasing demands and advancements such as artificial intelligence and disruptive technology still largely remain unknown in terms of their impact.

We need a new breed of lawyer with new skills, innovative and entrepreneurial vision and professional inclusive managers who put exceptional client service at the heart of their business.

The new apprenticeship standards developed by trailblazers give us just that. Gone are the days with a clipboard and form filling to achieve a qualification.

Investing time, resources and your levy can only improve business performance and create a new generation of legal professionals.

The key does come back to partnering with a flexible, experienced training provider who can help cut through the current complexities that surround the levy.

Once you’ve mastered the apprenticeship reforms minefield, it really is an exciting opportunity to grow the talent in your business.

At the 24-month post-levy introduction point, when lots of businesses will see their levy pot disappear to government, our plans will see us move into co-investment as we will have successfully spent 100% of our levy pot and created almost 100 apprenticeship opportunities, from administrative assistants to heads of department.

Developing new skills and creating an environment for people to flourish is part of our strategy. Our levy investment is only one small aspect of our people plan.

Our apprenticeship plans involve training that will be by blended learning, where our people attend workshops, take part in professional masterclasses with industry experts, have access to virtual learning online and receive coaching for their own personal professional development.

Other firms need to explore their training needs and consider what skills a lawyer in the future will need.

The apprentice levy is definitely part of the answer but the first decision has to be partnering with a training provider that can help navigate the current apprenticeship reforms so the investment can truly begin to benefit and improve business.

The bottom line is we now have the apprenticeship levy so we simply have to make it work!

Sally Swift is responsible for performance management and project delivery of Browne Jacobson’s apprenticeships talent development programme.

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