As an organisation with more than 250 employees, we are in the scope of the Government’s Public Sector Apprenticeship Target. This means we should employ at least 2.3% of our workforce as new apprenticeship starts from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2021, and report annually on the average we’ve achieved each year.
2020/21 in figures
Number of employees
- On 31 March 2020 : 2782
- On 31 March 2021: 2957
- Who started between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021: 426
Number of apprentices
- On 31 March 2020: 42
- On 31 March 2021: 44
- Who started between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021: 33
(This includes new hires and existing employees who started an apprenticeship programme).
Our apprentices in 2020/21
This year, we have continued to embed our apprentice programme, taking on our second cohort of early careers apprentices, and continued to use the programme to attract, develop and retain the talent we need to meet our strategic priorities.
Our apprentices work in our casework and support teams, and experience a blend of training and working, as well as mentoring by their managers. Some highlights and developments from 2020/21 include:
- 21 of our apprentices passed their qualifications, many of them with distinctions, demonstrating the high quality support we offer our apprentices
- 33 new apprentices started as part of our second cohort of Early Careers Learners
- 73% of apprentices were retained in new roles in the organisation after completing their apprenticeship
- We came 51st in Rate My Apprenticeship Top 100 employers, rated by apprentices.
We have looked at developing internal career paths for our apprentices once they have completed their programme of study, including offering the opportunity to take on a new apprenticeship at a higher level where this is available. In particular, in our casework teams we have retained some of the first cohort from our early career programme with a view to giving them the experience and support they need to potentially move into an investigator role in 2022. We are keeping this under close review in 2021 as if this proves successful it could provide a long-term career option for apprentices joining the service in future.
We’re pleased with these achievements – and proud of the enthusiasm both new and existing colleagues have shown for developing their careers with us via an apprenticeship, in the challenging circumstances presented by the pandemic.
Our activities in 2020/21 continued to be based on our existing apprenticeships strategy, which has four objectives:
- To broaden and support all the different ways people enter our service – whether at entry level or an experienced hire, career changer or returner.
- To offer a variety of programmes designed to upskill and develop colleagues at different points in their careers.
- To create robust and effective professional development for investigators.
- To prioritise the professional development of some skills over others, according to organisational needs.
Challenges during the year
Despite these positives, however, we haven’t been able to extend apprenticeship opportunities to as many people as we’d wanted to – and we haven’t met the Government’s public sector apprenticeships target this year. The primary challenge we’re facing is that there isn’t yet a suitable apprenticeship standard that covers our investigators’ full development.
Although we have had apprentices start in support and business administration roles, our investigators are the single biggest group of employees in our organisation, accounting for around one third of our overall workforce – so our ability to find an appropriate standard is a key factor in our ability to meet the target.
As we have needed to focus on apprenticeships in smaller areas of our organisation, this also has an impact on our ability to absorb apprentices year-on-year – our largest single group of apprentices are in business administration roles, where we have a more limited amount of work and jobs available. As the apprenticeship programme is now 18 months in duration, this then means a longer gap between being able to start new apprentices in the roles.
Becoming a trailblazer organisation
We have considered the option of becoming a trailblazer organisation, setting our own investigator standard. Unfortunately we have assessed this would not be a realistic option – our initial scoping of other prospective partner organisations to jointly develop any trailblazer showed we would be the largest employer, and it would be unlikely that we could generate enough new apprentices on the programme each year to make it viable for any provider to develop and deliver the programme.
We would also have to review how the required length of an apprenticeship programme of a minimum of 12 months plus 3 months end point assessment process – fits with our current training programme for new investigators.
Additionally, we have been and continue to go through significant change in other parts of our organisation as we streamline for the future – this continued uncertainty has meant that we have not been able to offer as many apprenticeships as we would have liked.
Our priority actions for 2021/22
Continuing to embed our early careers scheme, focusing on quality of experience and future career pathways. Our next intake of early careers apprentices is likely to be in mid-2022.
- Developing our career progression opportunities for existing employees at all levels in the organisation, including launching a management development programme incorporating an apprenticeship
- Creating opportunities to offer apprenticeships as we review our organisation design
We’re also looking at how we develop our offer to young people entering the workforce, including exploring the Kickstart scheme, which provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16-24 year olds on Universal Credit.