Developing new thinking to help employers and candidates get the best out of apprenticeships – Becky Plant, Head of Apprentice Solutions at Capp

Strengths based recruitment

Becky Plant is Head of Apprentice Solutions at Capp, a strengths-based assessment, products and platform specialist. Their clients include Aviva, the NHS, National Grid, BAE Systems, Capgemini, Barclays, EY, Morrisons, Nestlé and Standard Chartered Bank.

Becky Plant - Capp

Becky Plant

“…All the things that make you who you are should be why an organisation hires you. Don’t try and hide those things…”

Finding my love of apprenticeships

Previously before joining Capp, I was Head of Programmes at Capgemini, a global outsourcing and technology consulting organisation. One of the things that drove my Capgemini journey into apprenticeships was about the need for talent. Previously I was the PA [Personal Assistant] to the CTO [Chief Technology Officer] and I one day had a talent conversation with our HR director, who had the perfect job for me.

I was handed a piece of paper and asked to deliver a programme, so I ended up over a period of four years bringing over 300 young people into work via a Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Software Development, and then on to Aston University to complete their full B.Sc. That’s where my love of apprenticeships started.

“I can’t top this. My work here is done!”

About nine months ago I left Capgemini. It’s going to sound corny, so please bear with me, but it was about this time last year, on the second day of National Apprenticeship Week, I was walking up Downing Street with one of my Capgemini apprentices. I remember turning round to take all of it in (it still gets you excited when you do stuff like that), and I just thought, “I can’t top this! My work here is done.” (In a very dramatic fashion!)

One thing I found out when dealing with the apprenticeship programmes is that I’m passionate about opening up talent pipelines. I love opening up opportunities for young people that wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity to start work at that level or access a career at that level before as the entry point didn’t exist.

Looking at potential through strengths-based recruitment

Capgemini had started working with Capp implementing strengths-based recruitment in their own graduate and apprentice programmes, and that’s where I first met Capp. What the strengths-based recruitment piece does is what the early talent space needed as you don’t have much to go on to assess as their life experience is limited. “Tell me a time when…” doesn’t work for a school leaver for example. Strengths based assessment looks at a person’s potential.

The world of work is fundamentally changing and you cannot determine success in a job role based purely on academic success. Strengths let you increase the size of your talent pipeline and be more inclusive. Talent you may have excluded before, because they would have been screened out based on grades suddenly becomes available.

What would get me every time was when I would be turning away young people who weren’t necessarily the right fit for Capgemini, but they were still people who had amazing qualities and a “match” for other organisations.

Changing the world and matching people to their perfect job

I joined Capp nine months ago as Head of Apprentice Solutions. Capp is a massively forward-thinking company. It’s just amazing what it delivers. There are many things that we do from ground breaking assessment, strengths-based development, and of course our strengths-based recruitment.

I joined the organisation to lead and grow the apprentice vision – so our apprentice recruitment schemes, apprentice development and advice for clients about all things apprentice. At the heart of it all, it’s also about changing the world and matching people to their perfect job, and especially in the early career space and how you help young people to get those jobs. On the flip side you need to help the recruiting organisation create the perfect environment to “land” their new recruits in.

More inclusive recruitment practices

What’s interesting with Capp is how its looks at a person with strengths and assessment. It’s about matching people to the love of what they do and by doing that you’re not having any adverse effect on diversity and background social mobility wise. It’s all about creating a level playing field and parity. We help organisations to use the recruitment process to understand what talent fits their organisation through looking at candidate’s strengths and their ability.

If you relate that back to female talent particularly, it’s not disadvantaging them in any part of the recruitment process. Some people use tests and assessments that don’t play to a woman’s stress receptors, which can put them in a really bad starting place so they won’t perform to their optimum. Capp is all about making sure that anything you’re doing about recruiting has no adverse effect, whether you’re male or female. So it’s about avoiding recruitment practices that are not inclusive.

We’ve also got a really exciting female leaders programme that helps women understand who they are and what their strengths are. A lot of organisations have that as development programme for the senior women and emerging female leaders in their business.

The many things that make you who you are

All the things that make you who you are should be why an organisation hires you. Don’t try and hide those things. It’s Fingerprintabout “being the ‘you’ that you want to be” (which is the Capgemini strapline so I claim no credit!). It’s encouraging those amazing strengths that females have and bringing them in to business, using them positively and not hiding them.

What’s interesting for me is when a client works with Capp, and we’re analysing and understanding the data right from attraction though all parts of the recruitment process. The conversations that you have with clients about what assessment and screening is doing through the recruitment process are some of the most powerful and proud conversations you can be part of. The amount of scrutiny on checking any adverse impacts is second to none and our clients thrive on what our data is telling them. Is recruitment more predictive now? Yes, and what Capp can tell its clients about predictors of success is a powerful tool.

Helping organisations understand their talent pipelines

Particularly at the moment my role is about helping Capp clients (and anybody that will listen to me – but generally Capp clients!) to understand what a great apprenticeship programme looks like and what the apprenticeship levy means.

Also one of the fundamental things that I’m doing at the moment is helping organisations understand what their talent pipelines are doing – so if they’ve got graduates in their business and they’re looking to start an apprenticeship programme, how do they make sure that those talent pipelines complement each other and that they don’t cause chaos by merging them into one.

I’m really proud and privileged to be one of very few people that has had the amount of apprentice delivery experience in the environment and the organisations that I’ve worked in, so it’s great that I can get out and share my knowledge, experience and expertise, which is what I’m passionate about.

Sharing learning from my own mistakes and why it’s important to give back

I want people to learn, perhaps from mistakes that I’ve made. It’s not about keeping all the knowledge to yourself, but how do you encourage other people to take apprentices but also not to make the same mistakes I might have made when I started four and a half years ago.

Another passion piece for me is that part of being in Capp is that our clients all ‘get’ why it’s really important to give back, and there has to be a fundamental shift in the way that recruitment is done. The Apprenticeship Levy drives part of that shift. Talent ecosystems are what is going to propel UK plc forward in the next ten years.

Considering the right ‘fit’

I feel it’s really difficult for an employer to ‘own’ somebody at the start of a recruitment process. Compete later on down the line to hire them, but first steps should be attracting talent into your sector. Recruiting is not getting any easier so what can employers do to make a change? I think what organisations will need to do in the not to distant future is to collectively group people / talent all together into sectors, but then almost ‘fight’ for them if they want to recruit that individual, but at a sector level, work together to bring talent in.

ExamsIt’s not about looking at whether you’ve got a 2.1 – that’s an initial academic screening and it’s a really blunt tool to screen out 50% of your pipeline. Some of our clients such as EY and Nestlé have changed and led the way with strengths based recruitment and also have a model to ‘give back’ the people who haven’t got the right ‘fit’ for their organisation into something we offer called Jobmi. The terminology ‘fit’ and ‘match’ is crucial here.

So they will say for example: “Sadly you’re not the right fit for us, but why don’t you go and look at Jobmi to see if you can match yourself for another role in another organisation?” These other organisations will look at you because you’re the right ‘fit’. So you go from a conversation where you’re talking about academic grades and failing to meet the benchmark to one where you’re talking about ‘fit’ and look at the opportunities with employers who are looking for someone like you.

In that early talent space it’s so important that a person does not feel like a reject. Technology means that you now have systems build on years and years of data collection, with millions and millions of data points that now can predictably match people and talent to their perfect ‘fit’ and match in the work place. Amazing.

The recent evolution of apprenticeships and why the Government is promoting them

November 2012 is when the Richards Review was released and this in itself moved the first lever in the world of apprentice reforms. Apprenticeships would move from large, all encompassing frameworks to specific job role standards designed by employers to meet employer’s needs. This created trailblazer apprentice standards and also trailblazer sector steering groups to create manage and maintain standards for sectors.

The most recent lever that the Government has pulled is the lever activating the Apprenticeship Levy. From April 2017 organisations with pay bills over £3 million will be subject to 0.5% of the pay bill being taken via PAYE each month. Organisations now have the mandate to deliver apprenticeship programmes in their organisations in order to ‘claw back’ the money that they put into the levy pot.

What’s important to note here is that we don’t know much yet, just the high level facts of what the levy is and what it’s there to do. The devil is in the detail and we will not know much more until the next round of Government announcements in April.

What employers are spending time doing at the moment is understand their full levy exposure and piecing together where it can be spent. The trailblazer apprenticeship standards coupled with the new funding mechanism means that there are no age restrictions for funding as there previously was.

You will start to see many employers with large levy contributions spending money an effort on workforce planning to understand where apprenticeship standards could be introduced into an existing workforce to upskill and develop their existing workforce. You will also start to see a shift for employers to include their graduate programmes where possible in the scope of the levy. What this means is that a new graduate joining an organisation may do a Level 7 or Masters apprenticeship so that the organisation can maximise their levy contribution.

Defining the different levels of apprenticeships, how these vary and the various routes that can be taken

Let’s start with routes. Well there are many, many routes and the best place for anyone wanting to start to have a look around are two places. 

For employers:

https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/apprenticeship-standards

Take a look around the sectors and the job roles there are out there that you can use within your organisation. You will also find the numbers you need to speak to people to help you understand more.

Those looking for an apprenticeship:

https://www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk/apprenticeshipsearch

Below is a basic guide to entry points I would use is a quick guide and something to use to start your thinking off.

From GCSE to degree

Apprenticeship diagram

The latest apprenticeship reforms open up many, many more doors and the opportunity to access careers that were previously not available without going to university. An apprenticeship can take you on so many different careers journeys from solicitor to management consultant alongside what are the more traditional apprentice occupations. 

Using quality to make the right choices

I mentioned previously that the Government announced they were going to reform apprenticeship standards back at the end of 2012 and so everything is now employer led and we talk about ‘trailblazing’ apprenticeship standards that meet the needs of the employer.

The standards are there to ensure that there is clearly defined minimum standard of competency and knowledge within an apprenticeship. I am also excited by the work that the National Institute of Learning & Work are doing to implement and adopt an Apprenticeship Charter.

This means that a person entering an apprenticeship will know what questions to ask and there will be a contact to sign to show what ‘good’ looks like as an apprenticeship standard. For any apprentice employer, the Apprenticeship Charter will become more and more important as a quality mark to define what anybody should experience as part of his or her apprenticeship.

In my opinion, ‘quality’ is questionable in the 3 million apprenticeships target that was announced by the Conservative Government in their manifesto. As you watch the scene play out, particularly over the next six months with the introduction of the Institute for Apprenticeships, quality will be coming up higher up the agenda.

There are lots of online tools that you can use at the moment to have a look at the training provider if the organisation uses one, to look at their Ofsted rating. So it’s about being smart and using the information on the Internet to really understand what the experience will be like before you commit. It’s about asking the ‘right’ questions. The quality issue always pops up in the high volume apprenticeship space, so in retail, hairdressing and in health and social care, but behind the scenes there is a lot of work going on by groups, such as City and Guilds to drive quality up. It’s high on everybody’s agenda.

The impact of the Enterprise Bill, the Institute for Apprenticeships and how these will affect employers

The main benefit of the Enterprise Bill is the protection of the term ‘apprenticeship’. In essence it’s about protecting the brand, driving up quality and ensuring there is no space in the market for poor provision. We don’t know too much yet about the Institute for Apprenticeships [the IfA], but we know that it will be the guardian of quality and apprentice standards going forward. The IfA will begin in a shadow role from April this year, with it coming in to full action April 2017.

A big year ahead…

What am I not excited about working on?! There’s some really exciting work going on with our employers around those young people who I’ve always been worried about over the past three and a half years. It’s those young people who are great but who have come out of the academic system with perhaps Cs and Ds, so how do you use strengths, and everything that we know about assessment to unlock the talent that they have on offer to get them into roles?

What excites me is using what has been deemed ‘best practice’ in the Cabinet Office Bridge Group Report on social mobility. How to have the most diverse pipelines of talent is actually about getting more people on board to use that and getting more young people into work that potentially wouldn’t have had the opportunity before.

I’m really exciting about using our platform, Jobmi, to increase that talent pool to recruitment gets turned on its head. That’s just got to happen, as otherwise UK plc isn’t going to move forward. It moves on the issue about skills gaps and educating employers about how to make apprenticeship programmes work for them.

This year is going to be a big year. A BIG year!

 

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