In this month’s Civil Service World magazine, Cabinet Office early talent manager Kimberley Adderley looks back on a decade of progress with Whitehall apprenticeships.

As one of the leading providers of public sector apprenticeships, we work closely with local and central government departments to bring quality blended learning to their most pressing skills gaps. The article hit home with us in its reflection on the journey from the first few government apprentices recruited back in 2008 to the hundreds that it employs today. As Adderley states: “it has been a lesson in the importance of committed and persistent leadership to drive through changes that will have a lasting, positive impact on both government and the society it serves.” This message could just as easily be a relfection on the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy ten years from now.

In 2007, incoming prime minister Gordon Brown created DIUS with a central aim of bringing about a sea change in how skills, particularly apprenticeships, were seen by industry, business and the public sector. At the time, the public sector as a whole directly employed around 20% of the national workforce but provided fewer than 10% of apprenticeship places. Secretary of state John Denham and his perm sec Watmore decided that they should not just be talking about apprenticeships in a policy sense, but applying that policy to their own department, even their own teams.

The key challenges faced by the civil service in response to Gordon Brown’s commitment to bringing about a sea change in how apprenticeships were seen by industry, business, and the public sector back in 2007, were not only how to increase the numbers (the public sector employed around 20% of the workforce at the time but provided fewer than 10% of apprenticeship places). They also had to define what was meant by an apprenticeship in the civil service, how apprentices could be recruited, and how the civil service could make apprenticeships work within the new rules set – the same challenges as many employers are facing now with the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy.

The starting point was the business administration apprenticeship as being a programme that would most effectively fill the skills gaps within the public sector at the time, and looked at routes to effectively recruiting apprentices through existing public sector channels. However, following initial success, places were declining three years later. In 2013, the launch of the Civil Service Fast Track apprenticeship programme addressed this. It widened the scope of Whitehall apprenticeships to cover all the priority areas in the civil service capabilities plan including digital and technology, commercial, finance and project delivery apprenticeships.

In 2015, the Civil Service Talent Action Plan committed to double the amount of apprenticeships begun in that year and in 2017, the Civil Service Apprenticeship Strategy set out plans to create at least 30,000 apprenticeship starts in the civil service by 2020. This required new thinking so that rather than recruiting thousands of new apprentices each year, departments had to consider how they could offer apprenticeships to existing staff at all levels.
We have been on this journey with the civil service and seen the transformation from a lack of appetite for apprenticeships to them becoming a key part of improving services to the public.

Whitehall apprenticeships veteran Ian Watmore says that apprenticeships are now a mainstream way of attracting talent into the civil service and he would like to see this becoming a best practice example. He says: “I’d also like the civil service to be recognised as one of the great employers of apprentices, which it possibly isn’t at the moment. We should be making sure society at large recognises what the civil service has done, is doing, and will do for apprentices, and why the civil service is better as a result.”

For those who are calling for the Apprenticeship Levy to be scrapped or morphed into a more general training levy, we say – this is a transformational reform of apprenticeships and it will need time to demonstrate its success. Ten years from now, we believe that public sector apprenticeships will have come as far as they have in the last decade – and hopefully the private sector will use this as a case study and follow suit.#

Premier Partnership supports Leadership and Management development through a blended learning approach that can be modified to suit the organisation and individual needs.