An apprenticeship journey


In 2020, Suzanna Travers, Head of People and Administration at 21 Construction, started a journey to make apprenticeships a part of the business. We asked her to tell us about that journey, and give us her tips.

Can you tell us about 21 Construction’s apprenticeship journey?

“The pandemic gave us time to reflect and re-evaluate what was important to us in our business. We have always said that people are our most important asset, however we let the day-to- day delivery of our jobs come before the development and growth of our team. We realised it was time to change and refocus, putting people and their development at the core of the day-to-day operations of our business.

Coupled with this desire to do right by our internal community, we also wanted to solidify the impact we could have in our external community. Whilst we have had many interns in the past, we never had a proper structured programme nor ventured down the apprenticeship route. One of the groups that the pandemic hit worst was those entering the job market after school, so we wanted to help and play our part. This would also align with our mission and passion to make a difference – we could build the business we want with the people we want, as well as help our community into employment.

We also needed to cut costs on our overheads and thus it was the first time we thought about the option of an apprentice instead of a fully fledged full time employee. The government scheme for apprentices was also a huge bonus as they were incentivising businesses to hire apprentices.

We therefore decided to start an initiative to hire apprentices from our local community and use apprenticeships to upskill our existing team. When contacting local training providers, it was clear that there were many apprentices that had started their journey before the pandemic but had been made redundant, so we wanted to help
match our needs with the pool of talent available.

We therefore decided to start an initiative to hire apprentices from our local community and use apprenticeships to upskill our existing team. When contacting local training providers, it was clear that there were many apprentices that had started their journey before the pandemic but had been made redundant, so we wanted to help
match our needs with the pool of talent available.

Whilst we have our own internal training academy, this was put on hold during the pandemic, so finding a way to continue our developmental offering was key. We were able to use our apprenticeship levy, and levy transfer funds, to not only hire new people but also provide courses that matched the needs of our existing team. For example, we found a leadership apprenticeship suitable for our ‘future leaders’ as well as apprenticeships for our construction and commercial management trainees.

I have also recently found out that even ACCA finance training can be studied as an apprenticeship, making the cost much cheaper but the employee gets the same accreditation as if we paid in full.

Thanks to our tenacity and drive to make an impact on our employees and community, we went from zero apprentices in September 2020 to hiring three new apprentices and enrolling eight (16% of our workforce) employees on upskilling apprenticeships by mid October 2020. Since the start, we have lost one apprentice but hired two more, so we still have three in the business. One has ‘graduated’ from his apprenticeship and is continuing his learning journey through a different training course.

To date, four employees have completed their apprenticeships, all achieving distinctions, we have five still on apprenticeships and are in the process of hiring one more apprentice.”

When looking into apprenticeships, did you come across any organisations to help you get started and can you tell us about them?

“Yes! I could not have done it without the help of the London Progression Collaboration (LPC). I had never heard of the apprenticeship levy and certainly did not understand what it was, what its purpose was and if we had any! Once I was given more details on where to look, how to log into my Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) and what this money could give me – and the epiphany moment that it meant ‘free training’ – it was a must to look into how it could help our business!

The LPC was instrumental in not only explaining what the levy did and how it worked, but more importantly helped me broker more levy (through transfer funds) from bigger businesses who had levy to gift! I was then able to set up a robust plan of action and they helped me broker the remaining money as we did not have enough in our levy bank to pay for all the apprenticeships we wanted to provide.

They also helped me find what apprenticeship standards I needed and should go for, as this then gave me the tools to understand what these apprenticeships were called and how to find training providers.

They are still helping me to this day in brokering more funds to keep our journey going.”

Most people think that apprenticeships are just for new and young people coming into your business, but that’s not the case – can you tell us about your apprenticeships for your new and existing employees?

“I thought exactly that until it was explained to me that it works for both! As above, you’ll see we hired new people to be apprentices in the business but we also used the funds to put our existing team on leadership apprenticeships, commercial management apprenticeships and construction management apprenticeships. So we are upskilling our current staff through apprenticeships rather than paying for external courses which would cost a lot more.

I now usually think “is there an apprenticeship to cover this training?” before thinking “let’s find an external trainer to help us” – it has changed my mindset in terms of training for sure.”

Many aren’t aware that as a small business you can access unspent levy from other businesses to help cover some of the costs of apprenticeships. Did you access this and was it a straightforward process?

“I had to do this as our plan of action was big! The LPC did all this for me, and they made it straightforward – I filled out the paperwork and they did all the work! However, they have specific goals to be helping people on the lower levels (L2 – L4 apprenticeships) and also in specific sectors (when I found out about them last year) so they may not be able to help everyone. They found us a great levy fund partner who have paid for most of our apprenticeships since September 2020 – that’s what made it all happen!

This year the apprenticeship service has launched an online platform where each person can now request levy through their DAS account. This was easy to apply for but I have been waiting a while to find out if I’m getting the levy I asked for, so this process is less straightforward!”

Do you have any tips for our members that are just starting to think about taking on apprentices and offering apprenticeships to existing staff?

“First: find out if you pay levy! If you don’t pay into the levy because you’re a small business, you can still access all these apprenticeships, but you will have to pay 5% of the value of the apprenticeship as the government has a co-funding scheme where they pay 95%.

Second: find someone you know who has done this before and glue yourself to them to ask all the questions! I have recently given some training to a friend in HR as she was as clueless as me 14 months ago, and now she is on her journey.

Third: there are some great apprenticeships and providers out there, grill the providers like an interview – find the ones you like and would work well with!

Fourth: For those who are doing an upskilling apprenticeship, be aware of the workload and get the manager’s buy in before enrolling on the apprenticeship. All apprenticeships are due to be done in working hours and are supposed to take 20% of someone’s week, so make sure to have the person’s manager on board, so they can support any time they’ll need to study vs doing the day job.”

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