The complexities of the newly-introduced apprenticeship levy shouldn’t detract from the fact that, with careful planning, it can help drive productivity and close the skills gap across the UK, says Redefine|BDL Hotels’ (RBH) Chief Human Resources Officer, Susan Bland.
The UK’s leading independent hotel management group has an expert team of over 110 hotel specialists based in offices in London, Glasgow and Frankfurt – while its portfolio of more than 50 properties unites over 3,000 hotel rooms in the UK alone.
With the apprenticeship levy now in force, RBH and its hotels will contribute more than £75,000 per year to the accounts used to fund apprenticeships across the country.
Susan, who chairs the Hotel Employers Group (HEG) – which represents the majority of the UK hotel industry’s biggest businesses – says that RBH will not simply focus on the levy.
She said: “It’s easy to overlook the fact that 6 April represented a complete overhaul of how apprenticeships in the UK are structured and delivered – not just the introduction of the levy. The latter has become something of a focal point because of the financial implications, but at RBH we are focusing on the bigger picture.
“We have re-structured our existing apprenticeship programme to aim specifically at Level 2 Commis Chef, Level 2 Hospitality Team Member and Level 3 Hospitality Team Leader, in order to help tackle the existing skills shortage for chefs, and to strengthen our pipeline of skilled team members and leaders.”
While the introduction of the new apprenticeship standards, and the levy as a means to fund apprenticeship programmes, have the potential to tackle skills shortages – and drive productivity – Susan warns that businesses will need to revise their recruitment practices to attract a more diverse group of prospective apprentices.
She continued: “Feedback on previous apprenticeships from some employers has been less than favourable but, as the new standards are far more straightforward and stipulate a 12-month minimum learning term followed by a rigorous assessment process, I believe they should result in better trained, more confident, work-ready apprentices ready to step into permanent positions.”
RBH currently has 18 apprentices, with a further 74 having completed qualifications since the beginning of 2016 which have been delivered in conjunction with specialist training partner, Lifetime Training.
The company aims to take on 50 new apprentices by the end of 2018. In putting these new apprentices through their paces, RBH’s internal learning and development programmes can now be mapped against the new standards, with Lifetime Training taking the lead on the remaining areas and the final assessment.
Setting new targets and making the most of the opportunities afforded by the new standards may not be as simple for companies without an existing, robust learning and development framework aimed at apprentices – as the levy will not cover the costs associated with setting up a whole programme.
Susan said: “The levy is quite restrictive on what it can and can’t be used for. For example, it can’t be used for salaries, which could mean a company having to add the full cost associated with adding a new employee to their payroll in order to be able to spend the levy on the person’s development.
“This may lead to some businesses changing permanent vacancies to apprenticeship roles instead, which would lead to no additional payroll cost – but wouldn’t result in an additional job role. Some companies may revise their training budgets and decide to offer fewer learning and development opportunities for others as a result.
“I’m aware of some companies which have decided the administrative, cultural and financial challenges of the levy outweigh the return of having an apprenticeship programme in place and are therefore treating the levy as a tax.”
As well as the administrative, cultural and financial challenges, Susan also highlights additional complexities that businesses have had to deal with in preparation for the levy introduction. She continued: “The connected companies part of the legislation is quite complex, and has led to RBH exploring the multiple business interests of some of its hotel owners in order to establish whether it applies. Where it does apply, it means the £15,000 Government allowance which offsets the levy for payrolls of less than £3 million per annum has to be split between multiple businesses.”
Despite these complexities, Susan and her RBH colleagues are looking forward to rolling out the new standards and ensuring a focus on having robust development plans in place which help nurture talent and achieve business goals.
She said: “We are keen to ensure we create opportunities for growth and career development that attract new people to both RBH and the wider hospitality industry moving forward.”