Opinion: Is the Apprenticeship Levy a lifeline for the charity sector?

Charities are stretched. Not only is there the need to constantly exceed targets and increase supporter engagement, but there is also pressure to retain team members, diversify strategies, and evolve services. All whilst responding to the ever-changing landscape inflicted by the pandemic. And often, this is trying to be achieved within strict and reducing budgets. It is no wonder that organisations are feeling the strain.

Yet, unknown to so many of the charities I speak to, a simple lifeline is hiding in plain sight.
In 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced - a mandated Government tax that any organisation that has an annual payroll of over £3m has to pay. The Levy is held in a pot that can only be spent on approved apprenticeship programmes, and if it isn’t used within 24 months, the organisation loses access to it. Between February 2020 and March 2021, over £2bn of Levy funding was unclaimed and returned to Government coffers. When charities are working so hard to bring in vital income, this ringfenced training budget is disappearing before it is used.

The development potential for this pot of money is huge for those organisations large enough to be Levy payers. But there’s more. Thanks to government reserve funds and Levy Gifting options, any organisation – large or small – can actually benefit from the training and development programmes available via the Levy.

Utilising the Levy within the third sector

Gone are the days when apprenticeships were used solely as programmes aimed at 16-year-old school leavers. There are now many more high quality accredited development opportunities that can be used to upskill existing team members as well as train new recruits. For instance, the average age of a Corndel apprentice is 36 years old, and with programmes from Level 3 (A level equivalent) through to Level 7 (post graduate equivalent), the possibilities are endless.

Although there is still a lot of awareness to raise, some charities and non-profits are starting to embrace apprenticeships as a way to enhance and shape their learning and development strategies. From succession planning and leadership academies to closing the digital skills gap and building data-driven teams, organisations are wising up to the untapped opportunities in front of them. Forward thinking charities such as NSPCC, Macmillan and British Heart Foundation, as well as a number of smaller charities such as Frank Water, Simon on the Streets, and Empire Fighting Chance are already seeing results.

It’s not just about building skills. A strategic apprenticeship approach can support key organisational objectives such as staff retention and happiness, the implementation of smarter and more efficient business practices, and the delivery of digital transformation projects. They can be used to bolster the foundations of an organisation, and offer substantial and accredited training, without the usual price tag of professional development programmes.

In my role at Corndel, I specifically work with charities and non-profits, supporting them to develop and deliver enhanced learning and development strategies that optimise apprenticeship levy funding – through their own, or gifted.

Having worked in the charity sector for eight years, I have first-hand experience as an employee and as a leader, surrounding the limited L&D options that are available. This isn’t in all charities, and this isn’t at the fault of any L&D departments, but time, finances and shifting priorities can get in the way. It wasn’t until I started working at Corndel that I began to understand the real impact and need for these programmes, and the scope to support charities and non-profits to harness and invest in their talented teams through the Levy.
And there are so many ways it can be used!

Often in charities, the only way to progress is to become a manager. The issue is when there’s no training involved, yet overnight, someone becomes an ‘accidental manager’. What if, for those looking to manage and step in that direction, leadership and management accredited training programmes were there to support them through being an aspiring first-time manager, to becoming a senior leader?

What if, for those not interested in management, there were specialist programmes that could enhance their current roles or future ambitions in data, project management or software development?

And what if providing these routes through training opportunities and investment in teams, organisations could retain and develop existing team members, as well as attracting a more diverse pool of talent? Wouldn’t that then support ED&I strategies too?

All charities, whether through using their own Levy or by working with a corporate partner to receive gifted Levy, can benefit from the amazing training and development programmes out there. It is a legitimate, no strings attached solution that is ready and waiting to be used!
Find out more about how to make the most of the Apprenticeship Levy.

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