Post COVID-19: could training be an operational lifeline?

June 2, 2020

Counterintuitive or good commercial sense? Why planning your team’s training schedule now could make all the difference to post COVID-19 survival

When every business owner is anxious about how to get back on track and how long recovery is going to take, having the right mix of talent without increasing the financial burden is key.

If your business could access training for your team that was 95% government funded, offered you a choice of hundreds of qualifications from beginners to post-graduate, was suitable for every age group and seniority you’d probably say “tell me more”.

This training already exists but you may have overlooked it because of myths and misconceptions: it’s an apprenticeship.John Henry, MD at EDA Apprenticeships Plus

In this article John Henry, MD at EDA Apprenticeships Plus – the partners behind the EDA’s Apprenticeship Service for members and affiliated members – talks about why this long-established, but often misunderstood programme, could be just what business needs as it plans for a post-COVID-19 world.

“It may seem counterintuitive discussing apprenticeships and training at a time when cost cutting, recruitment freezes and redundancies loom on the horizon, however apprenticeships could offer an operational lifeline,” explains John.

“What will be the “new” normal after we return to work? We know that there will be social distancing for some time but will this impact on your staff mix and training and recruitment plans. Far from Last In First Out, employers are being urged to move away from historic views and look to increase apprenticeships as a tool in their regeneration.

“We tend to think of ‘Apprenticeships’ as qualifications for 16-18 year-old, school leavers. This is not the case. It is the Government’s term to describe a work-based qualification for all age groups and for all levels in your business, right up to post-degree level.

“So apprenticeships are not only for introducing new talent but also for upskilling existing team members at any level at this time when many would like to use available time to advance themselves and your business. Skills such as logistics for deliveries, on-line sales and marketing, webinars and digital communication and, of course, health and safety are areas that will be in great demand.”

Flexible furloughing

“Chancellor Rishi Sunak has recently announced that from 1 July 2020, businesses can (with the agreement of the employee) bring furloughed team members back for any amount of time and any shift pattern, whilst still being able to claim the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furloughing) grant for the hours not worked. This also means that the minimum furlough period (currently 3 consecutive weeks) will no longer apply, and flexible furlough agreements can last for any period.

“This is, in my opinion, the most important recent improvement to the scheme, where there is some work for employees to do as the sector moves out of lock-down, but not enough to justify a full return to normal working hours.

“In fact, employers with an eye for the commercial would see the sense in having some of their higher paid employees attracting HMRC support at the higher level. In all reality you would not necessarily need an entire team of highly experienced employees, at the greatest cost, when less expensive, highly motivated and enthusiastic apprentices can share and perform many of the duties at perhaps a lower cost.”

Inspiring loyalty

“Another example of how apprenticeships and training in general can assist your business is with the added value you are bringing to a job role and thereby using an apprenticeship as a retention tool. Naturally, given the current circumstances, pay rises will be more the exception than the norm and employees will also be asked to do more within their job roles.

“Whilst an employer may not be able to offer a pay rise, what they can offer is fully funded training with paid and protected study time. This is not only an investment for the employee, but also prepares and trains them for their expanded role. A job paying say £25k can be enhanced with a qualification with a value of say £12k without costing the employer more than a 5% contribution or use of levy funds, which would otherwise be lost. As yet there is no word as to the extension of the life of levy funds payed by employers!”

Levy losers
“In summary, now is the perfect time to train especially if job roles are shared for a period until the economy recovers over 2021. Employees can continue to train whilst on furlough or partial furlough so what a time to enhance skills. SMEs will continue to receive Government support for 95% of the course cost and can now register directly with the Digital Apprenticeship Service (or DAS) for up to three staff members. A larger organisation paying the compulsory apprenticeship levy will use their levy contribution on the course.

“If levy funds are not used by an employer (larger businesses pay the compulsory apprenticeship levy) then they revert to the Government – ‘use it or lose it’ as the saying goes.”

New skills for a new world

“As well as supporting with staff retention and upskilling, apprenticeships can also be used as a recruitment tool. To survive and thrive post-Covid, the industry is now focused on increasing online provision and delivery services. New talent will be needed to continue this growth, however high salaries could prove prohibitive. By recruiting an apprentice and having them learn on the job you are creating an ambassador for your business, and lower salaries can be paid whilst they train.”

Benefits worth exploring

Efficient job sharing, keeping costs down, staff retention and viable recruitment are just a few of the many benefits of training and apprenticeships as a route back post Covid.

Accessing apprenticeships is unfortunately not without some complexities: recruitment, eligibility checks, management of funding and training provider engagement are just a few of the barriers that make utilising apprenticeships daunting.

Recognising these issues, the Electrical Distributors’ Association (EDA) is waiting to assist.

EDA Head Office
020 3141 7250