Apprenticeships: Tapping into talent

Jill Whittaker
07/09/2017 - 14:20
Services provider Servest has embraced the new apprenticeship levy, setting up a training programme to uncover ‘hidden talent’ with help from training provider HIT. But how has it worked out?

When the apprenticeship levy came into play earlier this year, it was arguably the biggest shake-up in apprenticeship funding for a generation. But how has it worked in practice, and what has it meant for businesses in the catering industry?

Cost Sector Catering spoke to facilities management company Servest, which partnered with HIT Training to get help in delivering its Hidden Talent programme.

Using it, the FM provider was able to roll out 100 apprenticeships in 100 days, but James Canter, Servest’s hidden talent manager, believes this only scratches the surface in terms of the potential of the scheme.

“Servest is an integrated FM company, with 23,000 colleagues based across 7,000 client sites throughout the UK. We have worked hard to drive the business forward in recent years and have ambitious growth plans to meet by 2020.

“A significant part of any success we have is down to the people who work for us and they are viewed as the company’s most valuable assets.

“We believe that by nurturing and investing in our people it will help secure a bright future for both them and the company.”

Canter is hardly alone in thinking this. Training providers such as HIT say that investing in the personal development of staff keeps skills current and helps to plug potential gaps that may open up across a business.

It adds that investing in apprenticeships has also been proven to help a company’s bottom line, with 80% of employers reporting a significant increase in staff retention and 72% noting an upward trend in productivity.

Canter continues: “Servest viewed the introduction of the apprenticeship levy as an opportunity to help cross-skill and upskill colleagues, from new starters right through to senior team members.

“The management team wanted to make the most of the levy fund and, at the same time, communicate to all staff how beneficial learning programmes can be.”

Jill Whittaker, managing director at HIT, says: “We saw a lot of enquiries ahead of the levy being introduced from businesses seeking clarification on what exactly this would mean for them.

“It’s actually quite straightforward and ultimately has meant that businesses have access to a dedicated fund that is set aside for training and upskilling.

“Businesses with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million now pay a 0.5% payroll tax, which goes into a fund to support apprenticeship training. This amount is topped up by 10% from the Government, making every £1 put in effectively worth £1.10.

“Anyone below the £3 million threshold (an estimated 98% of employers) don’t have to pay into the fund but still have access to Government subsidies of up to 90% of the cost, with employers paying the additional 10%.”

With levy funding in place, Canter needed to find training providers to partner with, and chose HIT Training to deliver hospitality and management apprenticeships.

Canter says: “Servest has hospitality contracts with a number of high-profile clients. It was essential to partner with the right people. Having worked with HIT Training previously through Catering Academy [part of the Servest Group], the team was confident in its ability to deliver a market-leading learning experience.

“HIT helped Servest to create, implement and launch the apprenticeship programme.”

With partners in place, Servest announced its first initiative as part of the Hidden Talent programme – the 100 Club – which had a clear aim. Over the course of 100 days, 100 apprenticeships were offered to the group’s ‘shining stars’.

Canter says: “Inspired by the arrival of the levy, Servest wanted to communicate the benefits, dispel the myths and drive interest in apprenticeships across the group.

“My team worked closely with managers to identify and nurture hidden talent within the company. The sheer number of apprenticeships available meant that every one of the 23,000 staff could apply for one of the 100 Club places on offer.

“Each division nominated a ‘hidden talent champion’ who was responsible for ensuring that the right people put their names forward. If your application was successful you then started a qualification-led apprenticeship programme supported by ‘hidden talent partners’.

“The 100 Club was launched on 1 May and within two months it was full.

“The appetite to take part was exceptional and many people liked the idea of being a part of something – it gave them a sense of community and belonging.”

Canter says the programme helped ensure participants not only had viable career paths, but ones they felt motivated about.

Rob Legge, chief executive at Servest Group, adds: “As business leaders, I believe we have a responsibility to offer employees an exciting progression path.

“Offering colleagues a chance to be able to carve out a career for themselves is the best way to inspire and motivate the lifeblood of the business and our 100 Club is testament to Servest’s commitment to developing internal talent.”

The company has gone on to create an online hub called Servest Street, which is used for all internal learning and development and houses information about all the hidden talent opportunities.

Canter says: “I feel like Servest has only scratched the surface with how levy funding can be utilised. The challenge is to find innovative ways to bring these opportunities to colleagues across the business.

“Our leadership and development team will be launching a new campaign called the Academy of Hidden Talent soon and we’re also looking at higher-level degree apprenticeships. The scope of what is possible is huge.”

Whittaker concludes: “While the apprenticeship levy is mandatory, it’s up to individual operators to take advantage of its benefits. If you don’t currently have an apprenticeship programme, you don’t have to introduce one, but it would seem a waste not to make the most of a fund that can support your staff retention and development, creating financial efficiencies, improving performance and ultimately helping to drive profits.”

For more information about the apprenticeship levy and HIT Training visit or call 0800 093 5892.

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