· Features

Apprenticeships in unusual places

These case studies prove apprenticeships can work for all demographics and talent gaps

The new apprenticeship levy will be introduced in April this year. Its announcement may have left more than a few companies obliged to pay into the pot who’ve never offered apprenticeships before, struggling to see how this form of training could work for them. But perhaps they should be thinking more laterally about the type of person who might be trained – and made into a real asset – in this way…

Leicester City Council

Leicester City Council (LCC) has been running its Women in Construction apprenticeships for nearly 30 years. The scheme began with three women in 1987 and is still going strong. To date 145 women have been trained to work in the traditionally male-dominated field of building and property maintenance.

“When we began in 1987 we had single trade apprenticeships – painter/decorators, plasterers, electricians and so on,” says LCC apprentice development officer Barry Sullivan, who’s been involved with the scheme since the outset. “But along the way we changed that to multi-skilled apprenticeships because we had a business need for it. For maintenance of Leicester’s social housing, for example, it was more efficient to train people so that they could do more than one job.”

Training is conducted in-house and in association with local colleges. Awareness of the scheme is boosted through visits to schools and community centres.

LCC is the largest property owner in Leicester with around 22,000 buildings. This includes residential properties of all kinds – from high-rise flats to detached houses – as well as commercial, municipal and religious buildings.

Leicester is a famously multicultural city and Sullivan says that without wishing to succumb to stereotypes, he has found that many female apprentices bring with them excellent soft communications skills that have proved very helpful in dealing with clients from a broad demographic and multicultural spectrum.

In keeping with the diverse make-up of the city, successful candidates have been drawn from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and age groups. One apprentice, a 26-year-old woman from an Asian background, proved to be a great asset when dealing with customers because she speaks five languages.

“Our retention rate after the apprenticeships is quite high,” says Sullivan. “Of course some do leave, but there can be positives in that. Two of our ex-apprentices are now lecturers at a local college – one in plumbing, the other in carpentry. That spreads the word about what we are doing with Women in Construction and they are excellent role models in the community.”


Research by Barclays found nearly half of UK 50-somethings not in employment wanted to re-enter the workplace. But a third cited age prejudice as the greatest barrier they faced when trying to get back on the career ladder. To help tackle the problem Barclays introduced its Bolder Apprenticeship scheme in Autumn 2015.

The scheme, designed to extend apprenticeships to adults who have been out of work for more than 12 months, has no age cap. Sixty-five apprentices were recruited in the first year. To date the scheme has included back-to-work mums, ex-military personnel, and people who have taken time out because of injury or to care for family members.

Mike Thompson, director of apprenticeships at Barclays, says it has exceeded expectations and delivered fantastic results. “While we often think of NEETs in the context of youth unemployment, we are seeing the older generation dominating this territory. We are finding that a large number of over-50s have struggled to get back into the workplace. Despite their greater maturity they have soft skills that offer employers added benefits.”

Brian Buckley, 57, was one of the first Barclays Bolder apprentices. He was unemployed for four years despite having a wide range of experience across various industries including aviation, IT, publishing and social services. Now he is an ‘essential banker’ at the Hammersmith branch.

“Taking on an apprenticeship role at Barclays has been a life-changing experience for me,” says Buckley. “After spending several years being unemployed I was convinced my age was going to bar me from finding a job again. That has not been the case at Barclays. The older workforce has so many skills to offer. Most employers don’t value these as they should.”


The BBC runs several schemes targeted at bringing disabled people into the organisation and developing their skills and potential. For example, in 2011 it launched PresentAble: a nationwide search for new disabled presenters.

A key plank of its inclusion strategy is BBC Extend. This BBC-wide placement scheme offers six months’ paid work within the BBC to appropriately experienced and/or qualified disabled people.

Over the last 14 years 513 disabled people have been recruited through Extend. While there is no guarantee of a full-time job at the end of the placement, figures reveal that 65% of participants have gained further work at the corporation.

The BBC has supported this commitment to diversity and inclusion with the launch of Extend Hub; a recruitment portal exclusively for disabled people. The thinking is to make it easier for those with disabilities to access a range of opportunities, including entry-level apprentice/trainee schemes and work experience placements.

Once a candidate has been offered an apprenticeship place they are contacted by the BBC’s Disability Access Service, which conducts an initial access assessment at the BBC building where the placement will be based.


The Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPt) runs an apprenticeship scheme for people on a committed addiction recovery pathway who have limited professional experience but want to use their life experiences to help others.

The scheme, now in its third year, follows a rigorous curriculum of practical and written assignments, culminating in a Level 3 diploma in counselling skills or an equivalent qualification. During a year-long placement apprentices work within a RAPt prison or community programme – or at the Trust’s head office – which allows them to share valuable insights about their own experiences with other employees.

Apprenticeships are open to applicants of any age. Analysis shows the mean age of the 77 apprentices RAPt has taken on across the country is 45. Eighty per cent of former apprentices secure further employment following their apprenticeships, and 62% move into permanent jobs with RAPt.

“A lot of people progress to very senior roles,” says RAPt director of HR Caroline Gilmartin. “Once people are motivated and on track and properly supported then they are capable of transformational change and of contributing to an organisation the way any other employees are.

“But you need to give mentoring and support. Some of them have never worked. To begin with they may not understand simple things like turning up on time. So you need to put pre-employability training in place.”

There is evidence that securing employment reduces the likelihood of re-offending by up to 50% and RAPt is interested in working with other employers. Although RAPt’s apprenticeships currently focus on people in recovery from substance abuse, Gilmartin says the aim is to extend the programme to cover other ex-offenders.

The Apprenticeship Levy: Key facts

  • The Apprenticeship Levy comes into effect from 6 April 2017. It requires all employers operating in the UK with a wage bill exceeding £3 million per annum
  • to invest in apprenticeships.
  • The levy is paid to HMRC through the PAYE process. It equates to 0.5% of an employer’s annual pay bill, minus a £15,000 ‘levy allowance’. For example, an employer with a £10 million per annum pay bill would need to pay £35,000 (calculated as 0.5% of £10 million = £50,000, then minus the £15,000 allowance).
  • Employers affected will begin paying the levy in May 2017.
  • Businesses with a large seasonal workforce may need to pay the levy in some months but not others.
  • To encourage uptake the government is introducing a new digital apprenticeship service. Employers will be able to manage training provider relationships digitally and use the funds in their digital accounts to pay for training and assessment of apprentices.
  • Employers paying the levy have their monthly contributions topped up by 10% from the government.