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What makes a good apprenticeship?

Every year, National Apprenticeship Week celebrates the achievements of candidates and skills programmes across the UK, but what does it take to run a successful apprenticeship programme?

Attitudes towards apprenticeships have changed as schemes have been proven to boost diversity, and some of the stigma has eased, however apprenticeships continue to be blighted by a lack of quality and poor use of the apprenticeship levy.

For 2023, several firms have made pledges to expand their apprenticeship programmes and there have been fresh calls to improve the way they are run via apprenticeship levy reform.

Here are their thoughts on what makes apprenticeships a success.



Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has celebrated the 100th employee to start its in-house train driver apprenticeship this year.

Since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, nearly 500 employees have passed through the company’s apprenticeship scheme, nearly half of whom were aged between 31 and 40.

David Jackson, apprenticeship specialist at the train operator, said its success depends on variety.

Jackson told HR magazine: “The success of an apprenticeship really does depend on the individual and what they want to gain from it. People learn in many different ways, so where some will thrive in a practical setting, others prefer a classroom environment.

“At GTR, we’re proud to offer 12 different apprenticeship schemes in our portfolio ranging from driver training and engineering, to leadership and management skills.”

Setting good intentions for 2023, the rail operator has also increased apprenticeship targets by 20%, hoping to place 220 employees by the end of the year.

Similarly, Lynn Brown, vice president HR UK and Ireland at XPO Logistics, said her firm’s success relies on the different ways it enables employees to work alongside their apprenticeship.

Brown told HR magazine: “We have adapted our approach so that we’ve got different models to suit different business areas, and therefore nobody needs to miss out. So, if you’re in an organisation where we do two-man deliveries, you can do that traditional apprenticeship approach and still be in the vehicle with an experienced driver whilst you're going through your training.

“At other sites, it's more of a warehouse to wheels approach where you'll be working in the warehouse on the days that you're not stepping out to do a driving assessment.”

Driven by demand and good pay, the firm has almost had 2,000 applicants for its HGV apprentice roles to date.


Recruiting for skills 

Since 2017, insurance firm Zurich has supported over 500 employees with apprenticeships, mainly in insurance.

In a bid to attract young talent and futureproof its workforce the firm has now introduced 100 new apprenticeship placements in 2023, including options in HR, marketing and data protection.

Talent acquisition manager Michelle Ransome said the recruitment process is vital to the insurer’s approach.

Speaking to HR magazine, Ransome said: “We recently tweaked our early-in-careers assessment process so it’s skills-based rather than experience – what someone can do, not where they’ve been. This removes unintentional bias to those who have had access to different life experiences.”

The company uses 80% of its apprenticeship levy each year, with much of it spent on internal candidates looking to retrain or gain new skills which Ransome says is critical to sustainability when it comes to talent.

She added: “We’ve seen an 89% uplift in demand for apprenticeships; this is testament to our commitment to training and retaining talent.”


Setting expectations

Brown at XPO added that managing the expectations of both managers and apprenticeships candidates is vital.

She said: “It's making sure that everybody delivers on their commitment.

“That's about making sure that the learner is clear but also the management team that works with them is clear, and about having a buddy or mentor inside the organisation that you can go and bounce things off.”


A decent wage 

Non-profit organisation the London Progression Collaboration (LPC) has called on employers and the government to scrap the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage and replace it with the National Minimum Wage.

Rising to £5.28 an hour in April this year, polling for the organisation found six in 10 people (61%) felt the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage was too low.

Paying the National Minimum Wage instead would raise apprenticeship pay by 42%, to £7.49 an hour.

LPC director Anna Ambrose said: “Employers that pay Apprenticeship Minimum Wage not only place real pressure on apprentices, forcing them to quit their apprenticeships and lose out on much-needed qualifications, but they also undermine business retention and productivity.

“There are skills shortages across the country in social care, construction and hospitality. If the government is serious about protecting the vulnerable, building new homes and saving the high street, upskilling our national workforce is essential.”