A group of us went down to Leeds to see how they had set up their Apprentice Training Agency (ATA). It had been going for a while and could prove to be a useful model to get ours off the ground. I’ve been getting more and more excited by the idea that we have launched where we take on more apprentices than we need and loan them out to organisations that are not yet above to commit fully to an apprentice, or trainee worker as I’m trying to call them.
I’ve been out and about trialling the idea. No doubt we will have to pivot it a few times yet it is taking shape. I now know that there is a demand for the services that we are offering and that some companies, especially small businesses or those where ICT isn’t their core activity are struggling to take on trainees. For some the paperwork is just too daunting, for some it’s too complicated a process but for most it’s just that they cannot afford the reduction in productivity that it will take to have someone sitting alongside their newest recruit.
I’m talking about businesses that may have three or four employees where an apprentice, however good they may end up being would be a major distraction from their main role of generating revenue.
Now Leeds Council and its neighbouring authorities have done something different. They have to solve their own problems. Each of them has set up their own ATA focussing on placing full time apprentices with local firms. Leeds’ is a joint set up between the local further education college and the city council.
Their business model is to engage with business, promote apprenticeships and provide a certain level of recruitment. They have found that businesses who wanted an apprentice didn’t always know where to go and so in many ways they offer a match making service. Their main market is small and micro business which are looking to avoid risk, have a known pipeline of work and don’t want to get distracted from their short term financial issues.
There is a lot of businesses interest yet the trouble is in finding suitable candidates and so they spend a lot of resource and time managing the supply. They do a lot of school engagement work and have events planned throughout next year including talking at assemblies and parents evenings, as well as a lot of marketing focussed on young people through social media and their web site. The message they try to get across is to understand what the business want.
An interesting point came out around gender bias. I have long talked about the difficulty in getting girls to apply in ICT yet in their experience sixty per cent of all apprentices are male. An apprenticeship is seen as a male domain. In job roles with a longer term opportunity, however, there are more female applicants. They had some cultural differences as well. Only six percent of trainees had come from the black and minority ethnic communities compared to a twelve percent representation across Leeds.
All in all it was a good trip and has cleared the way with some issues we were facing. We have three organisations who would like to take us up on our proposal and we now know how we are going to get on with it.