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Why IKEA is embracing the apprenticeship levy

Guest blog from Debbie Cox, recruitment & competence development manager, IKEA

With recent headlines challenging the value of the apprenticeship levy, Debbie Cox talks about the strategic approach IKEA has taken to apprenticeships and why she believes the investment is critical to developing its future talent pipeline.    

There has been much speculation over whether the government will reach its target of 3 million apprenticeships by 2020, particularly with the 41% drop in people starting an apprenticeship since the introduction of the levy in April 2017.

However, as an employer of apprentices, we are more interested in the government’s drive for more ‘quality apprenticeships’ that will add value to our business.

IKEA is relatively new to apprenticeships, but when we heard that all businesses with a pay bill of over £3 million would invest in an apprenticeship levy our immediate reaction was ‘let’s embrace this’.

Championing the opportunity at all levels

As long as we determined the right approach, we felt confident that apprenticeships could play a significant role in developing both existing and new talent. Therefore, we began to plan our strategy and think long term about what we were trying to achieve. The IKEA vision was to increase the number of staff progressing through to team leadership and onto retail management, so the level 3 retail team leader apprenticeship is an ideal development tool to underpin our ambition.

The new retail apprenticeship standards feel relevant to IKEA and the knowledge, skills and behaviours fit well with our business. I couldn’t say if they are better than the old frameworks, but the fact that we didn’t previously employ apprentices says something! We believe that the new standards supplement our existing company training, providing staff with a broader and more comprehensive development offer.

A critical step in our journey was to engage the business and we recognised the importance of doing that at all levels. Our business direction group (our board) totally got what we were trying to achieve through apprenticeships and therefore were prepared to champion the programme. We worked with our HR and store managers and found that most were aware of apprenticeships and the levy and were not at all surprised that IKEA was positively embracing the opportunity.

With the whole company on board we needed to find a like-minded partner to come on the journey. Our ethos is that ‘many companies, organisations and people, together, shape IKEA. Each and every person, idea and solution contribute to the big picture’. That principle applied to finding a training provider that would work the IKEA way. We went through a rigorous tendering process and as with all our suppliers, put potential providers through their paces. We chose Lifetime, and from day one started building a collaborative partnership. We fully appreciated the expertise in apprenticeship training offered by Lifetime, and in turn they recognised the importance of adapting their delivery to reflect the style and culture of IKEA, that our customers know us so well for.

During spring and summer 2017 we invited Lifetime to our annual regional careers days to promote the programme and we were delighted with the fantastic response. We are now on target to have 120 apprentices working at IKEA by June 2017 and are building a solid succession pipeline of talent for the future.

Shaping the future of retail apprenticeships

However, it is important to us to not only to employ and train apprentices in our business but also to have a real say on how apprenticeships are shaped now and in the future. As a member of the retail trailblazer and the Retail Apprenticeship Board, IKEA has a voice at the table and as part of the People 1st Apprenticeship Network we are learning what other retailers and businesses are doing so we can all benefit from each other’s experiences.

Having shared insights into how employers are dealing with challenges linked to implementing and managing apprenticeships is incredibly valuable. For example different approaches to managing the 20% off-the-job learning; At IKEA we have seen the benefits of active learning through discussion and discovery and the opportunity to blend these methods with more conventional approaches used by Lifetime, provides our apprentices with a well-rounded development programme.

So whether or not the government’s three million target is fully achieved or not, we mustn’t overlook the positives along the way. There has never been such widespread engagement in apprenticeships across all business levels and if we look at the most recently available data on apprenticeship starts, the retailer standard is right up there at the top of the list – that’s something to celebrate!

Many people have carved out tremendous careers in retail and IKEA will harness every opportunity to help our apprentices do the same.