The Walt Disney Company has recently announced a new education initiative. It has put its gloved hands into its pockets and is proffering $75m (£58m) to its employees over the next two years. The money will pay off (crucially, up front rather than in reimbursement) fees incurred by degrees, specialist trade qualifications and even the finishing of high school. Disney says its employees are not compelled to stay after they have acquired their qualification.
Companies on this side of the pond have been quick to follow suit. While the more cynical see this as a PR exercise, the more optimistic will see it as an investment in young talent. More importantly, it demonstrates business acumen when you consider the government’s Apprenticeship Levy initiative. In recent years, the apprenticeship has been reified. Where once it conjured the vague image of a 16-year-old school leaver garlanded with hi-vis and hard hat dutifully learning a trade, as it enters the UK’s national business consciousness in its new guise it encompasses so much more. You could be a school leaver, a degree holder, a professional with decades of experience - there is such a variance and volume of opportunity.
So, what does the Apprenticeship Levy mean when it comes to learning and development across the UK? If a company has a pay bill of more than £3m, it pays into a levy pot. These funds are only recoverable for apprenticeship training. I like to think of it as a kind of enforced private sector altruism. And though this mandatory upskilling costs, it leads to additional revenue thanks to more capable personnel.
The beauty of apprenticeships in their new format is that they’re not limited by academic or vocational restraints. As one of the few providers of particular sales-related programmes, including the IT technical sales, customer service and operations manager schemes, my organisation knows the value of schemes targeted at more niche, vocational openings.
The Apprenticeship Levy is not sinister government coercion to be feared by companies. It’s intended to be a measure that is, for enterprise and individual, mutually beneficial, fuelling revenue and engendering skill. I’m confident this will soon become the accepted and lasting perception of apprenticeships.
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