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Are the new apprenticeships proving a solution to the hospitality industry’s skills and productivity challenges?

Guest blog from Kathryn Porter, director of youth strategy EMEA, Hilton and chair of the hospitality trailblazer

As we reach the end of a week of celebration around apprenticeships, Kathryn Porter reflects on the changes to apprenticeships and how industry is adapting to the new standards and the levy.   

We have just come to the end of National Apprenticeship Week with much to celebrate. Just over four years ago I took on the role of chair of the hospitality trailblazer at which time we had no idea what was ahead of us.

Our very first job was to work out what an apprenticeship standard should look like and which occupations they should cover. The criteria set out by government was minimal and it gave employers the opportunity, for the first time, to think out of the box and create a really business relevant programme.

The trailblazer journey hasn’t always been straightforward; there have been a number of policy changes along the way and some of them often challenging. Midway through making headway on developing apprenticeship standards and assessment plans, the government then announced the introduction of the apprenticeship levy – as one of my fellow trailblazer chair’s said ‘the role isn’t for the fainthearted!’.

Fit for purpose apprenticeships

I wholeheartedly believe apprenticeships are a significant solution to addressing the recruitment, retention and productivity challenges faced by the sector and despite the challenges that is why I agreed with the members of the hospitality trailblazer last October to remain chair.

Hilton has a history of employing apprentices and my role on the trailblazer made the transition from the old to the new system much easier for our business, despite the closeness to the process we still encountered challenges along the way. I do recognise for employers that are new to apprenticeships how it can seem overwhelming and it’s sometimes difficult to know what to think especially when the media tends to have a bias towards reporting the negatives.

The apprenticeship levy for many employers presents a huge investment, but next month it will have been running for a year and is here to stay. So, from my perspective the important thing is to ensure employers continue to have fit for purpose apprenticeships in place, and with the facilitation of People 1st, that is exactly what the hospitality trailblazer is endeavouring to do.  

So far, feedback on the new hospitality apprenticeships has been positive but we are well aware that in a diverse and dynamic sector such as hospitality, we need to ensure we meet businesses’ evolving needs, and will continue to work with the sector and the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) to do this.

Many employers have spent the last 18 months getting to grips with the new apprenticeship system and planning their levy spend. This is good news as it means employers are embracing apprenticeships in a very different way.

Through the People 1st Apprenticeship Network, which includes over 250 levy-paying employers from across the visitor economy sector, we are hearing some fabulous examples of how apprenticeships are being fully embedded into long term business strategies - becoming a critical matter at board level, rather than just for the HR or L&D team. The second pulse survey that People 1st published this week (March 2018) demonstrated that employers now see apprenticeships much more as a development and retention tool, rather than the focus being on recruitment.

Overcoming the remaining challenges

There are of course challenges with implementing the new system of apprenticeships, but I’m confident in saying that they can be overcome. For both employers and providers there has to be a complete change in mind-set as the new apprenticeships are very different. And for employers that are not taking on the delivery of training themselves, their training provider plays an important role in managing the transition. 

According to People 1st’s pulse survey, the two most significant concerns that employers continue to face are over conducting and recording 20% off-the-job training and implementing end-point assessment.

In the new apprenticeships, the training is flexible allowing employers much more say in how they want training organised and integrated into their business and in terms of the 20% off-the-job training, as long as it doesn’t go against the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) rules, it can be designed creatively to fit the ethos and style of the business.  What’s important is that training is not conducted while the apprentice is carrying out their work activities. It needs to be ‘away’ from their workplace but does not have to be ‘out’ of the workplace.

I recognise the challenges of apprentices not working for 20% of their contracted hours, but as mentioned at the beginning of my blog, if we get this right, apprenticeships can make a huge impact on the skills and productivity faced by the sector. Investing into the 20% off-the-job training makes perfect sense at Hilton, ensuring our apprentices master important skills, gain related knowledge and understand the importance of their behaviours by having the opportunity to cement their learning through, for example; personal reflection, group discussion and exercises, on-line learning and off site inspiring experiences.   

The other new area is preparing our apprentices for end-point assessment. While funding is focussed on training and the end-point assessment, it is critical that employers and their providers are tracking apprentices’ progress against the apprenticeship standard and using methods of formative assessment to keep them on track. Many end-point assessment organisations work with employers and providers to undertake mock assessments, and therefore much can be done to avoid apprentices feeling daunted at the end of their apprenticeship and encountering costly retakes.

It’s fabulous now to see the first round of apprentices successfully achieving the new standards. Many congratulations to People 1st gold standard training provider, HIT training, who last month won the TES Training Provider of the Year, 2018. HIT was the first hospitality training provider to offer the new apprenticeship standards, 16 months ahead of the deadline, and has worked closely with employers to help them to understand the best way to maximise their apprenticeship programmes.

I’m looking forward to being part of, and hearing many more of, these successes over the year. If you’re reading this and want to feed into or be part of the hospitality trailblazer, People 1st’s free-to-join Apprenticeship Network, or have ideas to share or challenges to address then get in touch with People 1st today.

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