When £400m of available funding for apprentices was left unspent (and sucked into government coffers, never to be seen again) why aren't more licensees getting involved in apprenticeships?
James Nye, managing director of family firm Anglian Country Inns, not only has 12 apprentices across his nine pubs, he's also undertaking a level seven apprenticeship himself.
"I'm doing a level seven apprenticeship in order to do an MBA [in hospitality – an apprentice usually start at level two]," James explains. "Doing it through the apprentice framework has made it very affordable for me but it also means I am promoting apprenticeships through the business and leading by example."
The other 12 in the business vary in age and experience and between front and back of house roles – and there have already been some real success stories, James says. "One of our people came to us after they had dropped out of college. They completed an apprenticeship with us and are now going to study a hospitality-related degree. It was really satisfying to help someone get to university through work rather than school."
Anglian Country Inns hasn't always had apprentices in the business and James admits they only really started looking into it when the Apprenticeship Levy came in.
Paying it "rather focused us" as he puts it (see "How it works", below).
"I was initially sceptical that it was just another tax and another load of bureaucracy but since we had to pay in, I wanted to make sure we were getting what we were due back out.
"There are still additional costs, of course. Once we've spent all the levy money, the Government covers 90 per cent of the remaining costs. For a business such as ours, that works out at about £30 a month for a junior apprentice."
It is also worth mentioning here that for apprentices aged between 18 and 24, there is also a National Insurance break, with employers not required to pay the NI contribution for the duration of the program. And that, even if you are too small an operation to pay in to the levy, you are still eligible to take money out.
Despite this, it seems many licensees are put off exploring apprenticeship schemes. One barrier seems to be the paperwork involved and, "there can be a lot," admits James but a partnering with a specialist provider can bear the brunt of it.
In the case of Anglian Country Inns that provider is HIT training. Unsurprisingly, Jeremy Scorer, principal of HIT's Licensed Retail Academy, agrees. "When you are working with a good partner, the amount of paperwork can be minimal and will obviously decrease as the processes are set up. People also seem to think having apprentices who have to be out on day release will be too much of a drain on the business, but this too is a myth."
Less trouble than it looks
It's true that apprentices have to spend 20 per cent of their time in "off the job" training but that doesn't always mean day release – any tasks that they undertake that are, "relevant to the apprenticeship, that teach new relevant skills and that take place within the apprentice's normal (contracted) working hours," would count.
That means, for example, that a bartender wanting to progress to a supervisory role via an apprenticeship could fulfil his "off the job" training via tasks such as helping with rotas or managing an event enquiry.
"And if you are thinking 'it all sounds good but I haven't got the time for any of it', I'd also challenge that," Jeremy says.
"Much of it is just an extension of your normal working practice. Licensees are always instructing staff on new products, service standards, new technology, putting on events and so on. You are already training all the time, whether you realise it or not, and all these things can be included within an apprenticeship framework."
The bottom line
So hiring apprentices might be easier than it first appears. But what will it do for the business? According to Jeremy, the benefits can be seen in as little as six months.
"We can prove tangible benefits for any size of business," he says. "We can measure it in terms of customer service scores, productivity and/or wastage. We worked with an operator in Manchester that saved £1,200 on their annual milk bill as a direct result of us implementing barista training as part of an apprenticeship programme.
"We also see that for first-time licensees – who may not have any health and safety policies, risk assessments or equality statements in place – as apprentices are training in these areas they can create bespoke versions for the business."
Publicans who feel they don't have anyone on the team they trust in the cellar or to do the stock-taking can also reap the rewards of employing apprentices who can learn these skills, which means more tasks can be delegated stress-free, Jeremy says.
For the pub industry as a whole, apprenticeships also offer the opportunity to address issues around recruitment and retention and re-cast the industry as a viable long-term career option. Pubco Greene King says not only does offering apprenticeships attract jobseekers, but that within its business retention and engagement is higher amongst apprentices."This then links to better productivity through an engaged team and costs savings through recruitment," explains the company's head of apprenticeships, Graham Briggs.
They are also helping to fill some of the skills gaps in the business. "While more apprenticeships are for front-of-house roles, we have found at Greene King that our level three to five programme has grown in recent years and is helping us to develop our
people's careers from team member to general manager."
Oakman Inns too has found that apprenticeships are filling roles across the business. As Laura Douglas, learning and development manager, reports: "We started our apprenticeship journey with commis chefs, but we have now expanded out to front of house roles including hospitality supervisor and manager levels. Our support teams are also benefiting through AAT and CIPD professional apprenticeship qualifications."
Apprenticeships have changed then, and the perception of them outside the industry is changing too. Now is the time for the industry too to take a fresh look, if pubs are to reap the obvious business benefits – and make sure another £400m in funding doesn't get wasted.
The King's Apprentice: Vincenza Sparano started as an apprentice chef at Oakman Inn's pub The Kings Arms in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire just over a year ago.
How did you become an apprentice?
I was originally part of a graduate management scheme, sponsored by Oakman Inns. After I had completed my kitchen training module, my mentor and my head chef suggested that I seek a chef qualification with a view to becoming a head chef in the future.
What was your impression of apprenticeships before you began one?
I think I had a poor view, but having actually started one, maybe due to the fact that in the UK and at Oakman they really care about your future, I have completely changed my mind.
What have been the challenges?
The biggest challenges have been getting the self-discipline to keep working and learning even on your days off, when you are feeling tired.
Has doing an apprenticeship in a pub changed the way you see the pub industry as a career choice?
It has indeed. I think that pubs are a good start for people who want to build their career in the hospitality industry.
- How it works: the apprenticeship levy
Introduced in 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy requires all companies with a pay bill of more than £3m to contribute 0.5 per cent of their payroll costs to the scheme, which they then claim back for apprenticeship training. This amount is then topped up by 10 per cent from the government.
Businesses with pay bills below £3m don't pay into the fund but they still have access to government subsidies of 90 per cent of the cost of the apprenticeship, with the employers co-paying the additional 10 per cent. However, funds must be claimed within 24 months. From the first tranche of funding, it has been reported that £400m went unused and got taken in by the government.