Grow your own talent: Starting an apprenticeship scheme

Every year, the Big Lottery Fund gives out millions of pounds from the National Lottery to community groups and projects that improve health, education and the environment. Naturally, finance is a huge part of what we do.

We have approximately 1000 employees based across the UK including 23 people within the finance department who we actively encourage to gain formal qualifications. Over recent years, we’ve developed a finance apprenticeship scheme as a way to grow our own talent in combination with AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) and Kaplan.

Our scheme was piloted in 2010 when we took on one apprentice and since then we’ve taken on two finance apprentices each year. Importantly, with the government investing more support into apprenticeship schemes, the training of our apprentices was completely funded.

Along the way, we’ve learnt there are some basic guidelines and things to remember when implementing a scheme such as this.

Find the right qualification
Spend time investing in the right qualification so you can be sure your staff will come out with the right knowledge and skills to do the job.

We put our apprentices through the AAT Accounting Qualification as it provides students with a good in depth knowledge of finance. Through their studies, they are constantly given ways to implement their learning in the workplace which means we all see results.

Primarily the apprentices begin their time at Big Lottery Fund working within the transactional team (purchase ledger type roles). Within these roles and with the knowledge and skills they acquire from their AAT studies they are then well placed for promotion.

Find the right training provider
An apprenticeship programme is a three way partnership between your organisation, your apprentice and their training provider. Finding the right training provider is crucial. It will determine if your apprentices study part-time, online or via distance learning, and it will also determine how involved you as an employer will be. Needless to say, the more involved you are and the more open the lines of communication, the better.

Not only do the apprentices need to be supported from you as an employer, but they also need to receive support from their training provider. Consider the factors that add value to the learning experience (such as extra study tools, flexible classes and assessments etc.) as these could make all the difference.

Make the investment
Taking on an apprentice means you are taking responsibility for their career development. You need to ensure you put the proper measures and support in place to ensure a successful programme for all involved.

Invest in your apprenticeship programme by:
– familiarising yourself with all of the appropriate information – including study leave requirements, apprenticeship wages and funding.
– implementing a mentor system to ensure your apprentice is nurtured, supported and trained effectively.
– planning appropriate evaluation methods so you can demonstrate how you’ve shaped your apprentices into more productive and experienced workers.

Reap the benefits
Implementing our own apprenticeship scheme has meant that we haven’t had to recruit externally for roles other than first level roles within the transactional team. This means that staff who have been promoted do not require lengthy inductions as they already have knowledge of systems and processes so they’re productive in their new roles much more quickly.

Our apprenticeship programme has also brought younger people into the organisation that previously we wouldn’t have considered. In the past, we have recruited people aged 21 and over, many of whom were graduates. Now we recruit school leavers as well as graduates.

It’s understandable that some businesses would be wary of hiring school leavers but often going through the interview process will allow you to find individuals with the right attributes that you as an organisation can build on, growing talent from within.

From our experiences, school leavers have added a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the department. By ‘cherry picking’ those keen and motivated individuals we get the chance to mould them to our organisation, and teach them the values and ethos we value most.