Andrew Webster Head of Skills in Business at the University of Gloucestershire

For Gloucestershire organisations to compete in an increasingly global marketplace, it has never been more important for businesses to have access to the skills that they need, locally.

Published: 16/11/2016 12:03

To bridge the gap between business needs and the skills available in the local labour market, the University of Gloucestershire has appointed a new Head of Skills in Business, Andrew Webster. This is a brand-new role, which has been created with the aim of breaking down the silos between education and business. An urgent priority for Andrew is helping businesses to understand how they can get the most from higher and degree apprenticeships.

From April 2017, all employers with a salary bill of more than £3 million will be required to pay a levy to fund new apprenticeships.  For organisations falling into this category, the levy will be 0.5% of their salary bill. At the same time, the government will pay a 10% ‘top up’ to the employer’s levy contribution.

As Andrew explains “Many of the specific details relating to how the levy will be collected and spent are still being worked out, so businesses do not have all the answers they would like and this is understandably causing concern.

We’re here to help businesses navigate their way through this complex legislation and to support them in making the most of it. We are already working with dozens of employers to develop apprenticeship programmes that are fully aligned to their business needs, so apprenticeships underpin their wider strategy for growth.

We have the expertise to translate the jargon and help employers take full advantage of all the benefits apprenticeships can bring – so we really do urge employers to speak to us to find out more.” 

The levy will be collected directly by HMRC and then placed into a digital apprenticeship account. While the levy will only effect larger employers, all employers are able to take on apprentices and there is also funding available for smaller organisations who will not be levied. Importantly, higher and degree apprenticeships are not just for school leavers - they also provide an opportunity for employers to develop their existing staff, helping them to retain their best talent, increase employee morale and boost productivity.

The creation of Andrew’s role is the latest development in a wider piece of work that has been taking place since 2013, when the University of Gloucestershire signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Gloucestershire College and South Gloucestershire & Stroud College. As part of this agreement, all three institutions pledged to work together with GFirst LEP and directly with businesses to offer courses aimed at increasing the skill levels of the workforce, ultimately boosting the Gloucestershire economy.

Apprenticeships is one of the identified development areas that has been advancing quickly - the University of Gloucestershire now offers higher apprenticeships in leadership and management, health and paraplanning. There are many more set to begin in the near future, including degree apprenticeships in product design and in cyber engineering.

Andrew explains that the university’s apprenticeship strategy is entirely driven by a strategic ambition to create an effective future workforce for Gloucestershire: “Each of our higher apprenticeships has been developed as a response to needs identified by employers. For example, our higher apprenticeship in healthcare was developed in partnership with Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to offer a high-quality qualification for the Trust’s Assistant Practitioners when they introduced the role in response to a national shortfall of registered nurses.

Elsewhere we are working with employers to develop apprenticeships that can be delivered as part of employee development programmes, replacing ad hoc training with structured pathways that lead to formal qualifications. For example, for our degree apprenticeship in leadership and management we are working in partnership with the Chartered Management Institute, meaning that learners are working towards Chartered Manger status - the highest status that can be achieved in the management profession.”

In addition to responding to existing needs, the University of Gloucestershire is developing its apprenticeship offer to help ensure that the county has the skills it needs for the future. To this end, it is working with businesses in key growth areas to develop specialist apprenticeships that will ensure the future talent they need is available within the local area. The University’s degree apprenticeships in information security, the Internet of Things & cyber systems, and in product design are all being developed with significant industry input to ensure they will provide skills that meet market demands.

The university’s apprenticeships offer is constantly evolving and provides complete flexibility to meet the needs of different learners and businesses.

As Andrew explains, “we recognise that no two businesses are the same, so we have developed a service that ensures we have the ability to respond to different employer objectives and requirements. Similarly, our apprenticeships provide learners with the freedom to choose options that will best meet their needs, and in a way that ensures they are fully supported throughout. This dual approach means that our apprenticeships are great for employers and employees, so they really are a win-win."