Scott Maynard: Simple steps could unlock thousands more apprenticeships
The Go-Ahead Group is the largest apprenticeship provider in public transport. This year, we’re planning to take on 1,020 apprentices – of whom around 220 will become train drivers and engineers at Govia Thameslink Railway, and the rest will work at our bus companies in London and around the country. But there’s more to do, Go Ahead’s HR Director, Scott Maynard sets out the simple steps that could unlock thousands more apprenticeships.
Apprentices, to us, are valuable investments – those who join us as apprentices stay with us for longer, get high feedback from passengers and add diversity to our business.
However, the structure of the Apprenticeships Levy has made it difficult for us to push up our intake higher. Although we support the levy in principle, and applaud its goals in encouraging companies to invest in training, its complexity and rigidity is proving a barrier.
The levy requires companies over a certain size to pay 0.5% of their payroll to contribute. They can then claim this money back, topped up with extra from the Government, to fund apprenticeships. But the rules around it are complex.
For example, we are required to bring apprentices back into the classroom every four weeks, which is challenging in a busy public transport operation. Go-Ahead London operates 2,300 buses out of 17 depots with complex rosters for 7,750 colleagues. We support the requirement for minimum classroom time, but it would be more practical if it could be spaced out over a year, or a quarter, rather than a month.
We devote a huge amount of time and resource to administering the levy – to comply with its requirements, creating each apprenticeship is a ten-step process, and there are three different inspection regimes to accommodate.
The system often seems to be designed to catch out employers, rather than to enable and support recruitment, and a ‘trusted provider’ designation for proven apprenticeship employers could cut down cost and bureaucracy without undermining quality
A further oddity is that we are not allowed to use any levy funding to promote our apprenticeships. The transport industry as a whole would like to enhance perceptions – to shout from the rooftops about the satisfaction to be had from delivering fantastic bus and rail services to communities.
We’re keen to attract candidates from the widest possible pool – we’d like more women to come and work for us, more people who are from ethnic backgrounds other than white British, and we’ve taken steps to make our training accessible to neurodiverse candidates. But we’re not allowed to use any levy money to market our scheme to people in those groups.
We’re calling for a radical overhaul of the levy so we can open up more opportunities in bus and rail.
Apprentice Engineer, Alicja Juszczyk, Camberwell Bus Academy