No degree necessary: Could apprenticeships be an answer to sector recruitment?

With charities unable to meet increasing wages and facing difficulty attracting new talent into the sector, apprenticeships could be the solution they didn’t know they needed, as Melissa Moody discovers.

Charities are under enormous pressure when it comes to staffing. With the cost of living increasing and fundraising income at reduced levels, they are struggling to meet the demands of not only rising wages, but learning and development opportunities too.

This is compounded by the fact there’s now more scrutiny over diversity and attracting younger, newer talent into the sector. So if charities can’t meet rising wages to attract new staff, what can they do? The answer could be simple: apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships have long been a key tool for getting younger people into work through training schemes that are relatively inexpensive to the employing organisation. Ali Terrington, partnerships director at apprenticeship and training provider, Corndel explains that many charities are actually losing money by not taking on apprentices.

The primary reason for this the existence of the apprenticeship levy; a mandated government tax that any organisation, including charities, which have an annual payroll of over £3 million has to pay. This levy is then held in a pot that can only be spent on approved apprenticeship programs and if it isn’t used within 24 months the organisation loses access to it.

“I actually worked that out and based on an average salary then it’s about 177 people on payroll, so quite a lot of charities fall into that,” explains Terrington.

In fact, between February 2020 and March 2021, over £2 billion of Levy funding was unclaimed and returned to government coffers. Out of the top 100 charities, only 11 were using the apprenticeship levy.

But to take advantage of apprenticeships, charities don’t have to have a payroll of over £3 million. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) provides 95-100% of funding for the cost of training apprentices for those who don’t meet the payroll requirements.

Companies can also gift 25% of their levy funds to those who do not meet payroll requirements, meaning corporate partnerships can be used for more than just fundraising.

That’s the case for Mark Andrews, an apprentice with Solent Mind. The acting head of business development’s 12-month fundraising apprenticeship is funded through a partnership with Zurich.

Why apprenticeships?

Traditionally, apprenticeships have been associated with vocational jobs,but now they can be used to develop and upskill existing staff members as well as for new staff. This has been the case for Andrews, whose apprenticeship made him a perfectcandidate to take on the role
ofacting head of business development – a non-entry level position.

“I just think charities haven’t understood what the benefits are,” says Terrington. “I think there’s a lot of preconceptions of what an apprenticeships is – that you have to be 16 and it’s not for developing an executive director. People don’t actually realise that a level seven is equal to a masters.”

That was one of the upsides for Charlie Byrne in his apprenticeship with The Children’s Society. He had been supported by and volunteered with the charity previously and someone within the charity recommended the role for him: a campaigns apprenticeship. “I went for the interview and the next week I was getting ready to start,” Byrne explains.

A significant advantage for charities is that it can be rolled into day-to-day work so apprentices don’t need to spend one or two days out of the office every week. This is particularly beneficial in a post-Covid world, when it can be integrated seamlessly into the work employees are already doing. Before starting, Andrews asked himself if it was worthwhile if he was spending four or five hours a week on something that wasn’t directly his job; worries that were soon put to bed.

“The stuff I learn one day, in a few hours a week, I can apply that next week because its so relevant to what I’m doing. It’s supportive to my role, rather than a hinderance,” he explains.

In apprenticeships, there’s an element of coaching every couple weeks giving consistent learning, development and questioning opportunities that will only aid the charity, and employees, further. Andrews couldn’t praise the coaching enough, for him it was integral for getting his current role.

“There’s a lot of self-reflective aspects to the apprenticeship, to really look at what you do on a day to-day basis, which sometimes isn’t usual in the charity sector because you’re fighting fires all the time.”

He’s been with Solent Mind for six months, but in his current role for two, and attributes that to his personal development through the apprenticeship. “Having one-to-one aspects with my personal development expert has been a big game changer for me and my career prospects.”

Breaking barriers

For a sector that has been under a lot of scrutiny for its lack of diversity, apprenticeships could be another way to help.

Although apprenticeships can be done at any stage of a career, for younger people looking for a career path, it’s seen as a great way into the sector. “There won’t have to be these requirements of 10+ years experience for an entry-level role. Hopefully these can eradicate that because it’s very much about learning on the job,” explains Terrington.

Apprenticeships can make this clear, adds Byrne. The Children’s Society changed the language slightly to make it more approachable. “Itwas made quite clear that a degree or even previous experience in the field, wasn’t necessarily a requirement.”

He admits that it was a difficult decision, choosing to do an apprenticeship, rather than following a more traditional route. “It was an opportunity to get my foot in the door and start working in a national team, with an acknowledged potential to stay on the path the apprenticeship would give me or find another role that was still in the sector and didn’t require previous experience in that particular area of work.”

It also breaks down geographical barriers. As Terrington says, even pre-Covid, there were fundraising teams all over the country “so being able to bring people together and help organisations break down silos internally through apprenticeships is a great way to do it.”

The next step

Of the charities that are currently running apprenticeships, many tend to do it on a very ad-hoc basis, Terrington explains. “The onus has been on the person who wants to learn to come to them and let them know about this levy that can be spent,” she says. “I think partly it’s because learning and development departments are so busy. There’s so many requests.”

But learning and development opportunities, such as apprenticeships, could be exactly what charities need right now. Apprenticeships give people longer term development opportunities. Unlike day courses, apprenticeships are typically done over a year and look at not only the individual’s current job, but progression over years. When charities are investing in their employees, even if they can’t increase salaries, it can encourage staff retention.

Byrne agrees, claiming that he would certainly be more inclined to stay because of the apprenticeship. “Obviously I’ve already invested time in the organisation, but they’ve also invested in me. And when my apprenticeship finished I was able to apply for internal vacancies before they were publicly accessible, even though there was this extra element to my job I felt like any other member of staff.”

For him, it also helped that The Children’s Society were “incredibly supportive all the way”, not just within the team, but the whole organisation. “It was really clear they were throwing their weight behind me.” Byrne was on a fixed term contract, and because of the pandemic, his apprenticeship program had to be extended twice. Each time, a business proposal had to be put forward to renew it, which he had significant support with.

When apprenticeships go well, they also encourage more people to take part in them. “It’s actually about retaining, upskilling and developing an internal pipeline of leaders for your own charity,” adds Terrington.

Byrne reiterates this, explaining that The Children’s Society is intending to take on more apprentices and want those who have successfully been through the programme to help and improve on it.

For charities looking to take on apprentices, or find out more about the levy, Terrington encourages them to do their research, not only through the government website, but to get in touch with providers to find out what might be best for them. It’s not a one fits all solution, but it could be part of a solution a lot of charities are looking for.

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