UK Study: Stigma of ‘Apprentice’ Label May Hinder Adoption Among Managers

UK Study: Stigma of ‘Apprentice’ Label May Hinder Adoption Among Managers

One of the innovations in organizational learning and development promised by the UK’s apprenticeship levy scheme, which came into effect last year, was that it would enable employers to apply the apprenticeship model to professional and managerial roles in addition to its traditional use in skilled trades. As of last October, however, official figures showed that only half of companies eligible for levy funds were using them, and often on training programs other than apprenticeships, such as sending their executives to earn MBAs.

Personnel Today’s Rob Moss highlights some new research from ILM that investigates how HR decision makers in the UK are applying their training budgets, which turned up one possible reason why few organizations are approaching management training through apprenticeships: 58 percent of respondents said middle and senior managers would be unwilling to be seen as an apprentice due to the “reputation and image” of apprenticeships and the implication that they require additional support:

Professionals’ reluctance to be seen as an apprentice could be putting businesses at a significant disadvantage. Of those surveyed who currently run a formal leadership training programme to help fill middle and senior management or leadership roles, over two thirds (70%) aim their programmes at mid-level employees. Yet only a quarter (25%) would consider using apprenticeships to improve the skills of middle managers, and 21% would consider using them to develop senior managers.

Jake Tween, head of apprenticeships at ILM, said: “Deeply ingrained associations with trade, low wages and a perception that they put a glass ceiling on progression, mean that apprenticeships have long been dismissed by those aspiring to seniority, and it’s time to put an end to it. We must work collectively – Government, employers, and providers – if we are to get to place where these prejudices are considered outdated.”

At the same time, however, ILM found that UK employers have significant leadership skills gaps, with 51 percent saying their supply of leadership was affected by a lack of available talent with the right skills and experience or the willingness to take on management roles. Management roles dominate Glassdoor’s recent list of the top 50 jobs in the UK in terms of job satisfaction, earnings potential, and availability, indicating the great degree to which managers are in demand there.

The perceived stigma against apprenticeships among middle and senior managers supports the argument made by some critics of the levy that apprenticeships are not necessarily an appropriate way to upskill employees already in the workforce. Another common, related criticism of the levy is that its definition of apprenticeships is too inflexible for many employers, particularly the requirement that 20 per cent of apprentices’ training take place outside of work. Employers have said that this and other restrictions make the apprenticeship model difficult to implement in some industries.

The apprenticeship levy has suffered from low uptake in its first year, with the number of new apprenticeships in the UK declining in the first quarter of the ongoing academic year, though advocates say this is only an adjustment and these numbers will rise again once employers get used to the new system.