Apprenticeships really can open up new opportunities

During National Apprenticeship Week Danielle Ware, Head of Learning and Development, looks at how far apprenticeships have come and how the Apprenticeship Levy reform has marked a new era again.

Danielle NAW2018

Things have come a long way with apprenticeships over the last 10 years, and the ‘Apprenticeship Levy’ reform marked a new era again. This forced employers to think differently, and while some saw it as a tax, here at Riverside we grasped it as an opportunity to refocus on the professional development of our workforce.

And these are exciting times.

Under the traditional apprenticeship ethos, we have the innovative GROW (Giving Real Opportunities for Work) programme which is part of our commitment to help Riverside customers gain employment and find their dream job.

The programme is constantly being developed, and in September we set ourselves a target to create 18 new GROW posts across our Care & Support services. GROW is an integral part of our commitment to tackle and reduce homelessness. It gives those with lived experience of homelessness the opportunity to do a 15-month paid work placement in one of our homeless hostels. Not only do participants receive on-the-job training but they can complete a Level 2 Apprenticeship.

GROW provides valuable work experience that builds skills and confidence, as well as recruiting new people with valuable lived experiences to Riverside. So far, we have seven GROW colleagues and we are on track with our current vacancies to hit our target by this summer.

Moreover, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017 opened up new possibilities for employers to upskill their current workforce, regardless of age, job title and previous qualifications. This means that a guaranteed pot of money is available to provide more training and development opportunities to all our employees, no matter where they are in their career – so everyone has a route to professional development.

This was a great opportunity that Donna, 36, a service manager at one of our homeless schemes, took up so she could enhance her skills, knowledge and gain professional qualifications while she continued to work in her full-time role.

She signed up to a two year CIH qualification in Housing Services after working for Riverside for nearly five years. This was her chance to return to education and gain more qualifications since leaving school.

Donna now has a greater knowledge of housing policies and law and has a better understanding of our customers. She continues her thirst for learning and is looking to further progress and sign up to another apprenticeship in leadership.

We currently have dozens of colleagues learning new skills in the workplace, investing in their futures, and benefiting our organisation. There are many positives for us; not only increasing the number of people in Riverside with a range of skills and life experiences to benefit our customers, but also bringing a fresh perspective on the services we provide. For the individual it’s about the journey and a path of learning, discovery and improvement.

Over the next 12 months, we are continuing with our ambitious plans to integrate apprenticeships into all aspects of the business. Our biggest challenge will be to continue to break down the perception of what an apprenticeship is, but also reinforce our offer even further with a strong focus on how professional development drives organisational performance.

It’s still early days for the levy to know if government’s aspirations with the reforms will pay off. There’s also much debate at the moment around the cost and value of university based degrees. Time will tell and, in the meantime, we will continue to focus on developing our apprenticeship-based programmes as we know it’s the right thing for Riverside to nurture, develop and grow its people so that we can continue to transform lives and revitalise neighbourhoods.

This article was first published in 24housing on 6 March 2018.