If organisations are to convert the Training Levy from a perceived tax burden to a canny investment in their productivity and people development they need to become clever buyers and actively participating customers. Whilst the cost to any organisation of the new Apprentice standards are agreed at the outset, this does not mean that all providers offer the same value for money. Organisations need to be discerning if they are to take full advantage of the opportunity the levy provides. Here are some tips for success:
- Ensure there is whole-hearted top team support for the initiative. Just because the expenditure is modest does not mean there is no other cost attached, particularly in terms of the working time apprentices are expected to spend on developing their skills and completing the programme. Without the top team support the programme will drift and be pushed into second place by more pressing work demands.
- Be clear on what you as an organisation want to achieve from the programme. Set in place three or four organisational imperatives around the issues that matter to you with clear metrics. For example, do you want the programme to increase productivity, or raise revenue, or improve margins. Perhaps you need the programme to develop specific talent to undertake critical roles in your organisation. This could be an opportunity to focus on key changes you are making, if so be clear what knowledge and skills do you need participants to develop. If the programme is about staff retention, engagement, or development then be precise in who you want to retain, why you want to develop, and what you need from increased engagement. You are looking for visible value to the organisation not merely a “feel good” factor for the individuals concerned.
- Specify these three or four organisational imperatives. Present them to potential providers and assess to what extent they grasp your organisational imperatives and are prepared to be partners not merely providers in what you seek to achieve. State clearly that you will assess the success of the programme against these organisational imperatives and that you will review at key stages.
- Meet the senior managers of the potential providers and the main coaches and presenters. Inspect the actual on-line and text-based materials they are using, establish precisely how much of the programme is on-line and how much is in workshops or one to one coaching and support. Satisfy yourself that there is a good cultural fit to your organisation just as you would interview senior team members for their values and attitudes as well as their track record. This is where the additional value of choosing the right provider for you really counts
- Look to the provider to tailor the programme to your needs. Do not simply accept a “one size fits all” approach and insist that you see how the provider intends to shape the programme to fit the three or four key organisational imperatives you have set.
- Internally make the programme a precious opportunity. You are committing yourself to providing valuable workplace time for participants to undertake and complete a comprehensive programme which will be robustly assessed. This places demands on you as an organisation and of course of each participant. Select people carefully for the programme being certain that it meets their development needs and that they are committed for the long-term to your organisation and to what you are seeking to achieve. Be explicit in your high expectations.
If you have been a clever buyer then you will have in place a provider who will bring real value to your organisation, who is a close cultural fit and who will share with you in achieving specific and measurable objectives. But your work is by no means finished, now you need to be actively participating throughout the duration of the programme.
- Nominate a member of your Senior Executive Team to act as sponsor to the programme, to attend events and to keep a close eye on performance measured clearly against the organisational objectives you have set.
- Have your senior team meet at least quarterly with the provider to review the programme as a whole and to receive feedback from them. Do not wait until a final review, set in place key milestones and expect them to be achieved.
- Ensure that line-managers who have members of their team on the programme are in regular contact with the provider-partner and have built a strong relationship which identifies and resolves issues as they arise. Line-managers should feel that the tutors and executive coaches running the programme are part of their team and focused on achieving organisational objectives.
- Set work-place tasks for participants to undertake during the workshops and in any action-learning sets or projects and assignments they are set. Look to use the programme to tackle real-time issues and to provide practical solutions. Expect participants to apply the skills they learn back where it matters, in the workplace.
- Measure performance of participants on a regular basis. This will involve checking on how well they are keeping on top of assignments. It also means observing how participants change over time, whether for example they are setting teams clear objectives, managing their time better, collaborating well with colleagues. There should be a visible difference.
- As the programme nears its completion hold a full impact review. Look at the impact on the individual and examine how has the programme impacted on others. Finally go back to those original organisational imperatives you set. Hold a face to face meeting with the partner-provider and seek clear evidence that they have met if not exceeded your expectations.
The success of the programme relies as much on being a clever buyer and then actively participating as on the commitment of individual participants and the service offering of the training providers. As with any wise people investment, active involvement, careful nurturing and true encouragement makes all the difference.