Simon Middleton is a business growth manager for destination management organisation Make It York and the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership. He works with private and public sector SMEs to help them find finance to develop their people and grow their business.

‘There has been increasing focus over the last few months on the topic of apprenticeships and the impact of the new levy on businesses. Whilst the levy itself only impacts those businesses with an annual wage bill of over £3M, the increased publicity because of it has lead more SMEs to consider what an apprenticeship could mean for them.

If you took a straw poll and asked what people thought an apprentice was I could almost guarantee that ‘a young person’ or ‘an entry level person’ would feature strongly in the responses. The reality is that anyone of any age can be an apprentice, and they can be an existing member of staff as well. Apprenticeships certainly offer those leaving education with great opportunities to get a foot in the door; they put them in an environment they may not have been in before where they can enhance their skills and develop experience.

For school leavers considering an apprenticeship there are several eligibility criteria to consider.  When you start one you have to be aged 16 or over, be living in England and no longer be in full time education.  Apprenticeships are provided at different levels and there is something for everyone, starting at Level 2 being the equivalent of a GCSE.  This provides the opportunity to develop and enhance your CV with Level 3 equating to an A Level and Levels 4–7 being similar to a degree.

To find out more about the range of apprenticeships on offer, check out the Gov UK website.

Given the cost and the sizeable debt burden that a university education creates it is clear to see why the number of 18–21 year olds competing for places in the world of employment has increased. This means that a string of A* grades or equivalent at GCSE and A Level, whilst a fantastic achievement, is not a guarantee of your dream job if university life is not for you. Employers are faced with dozens – if not hundreds – of applications when vacancies are advertised and many of those applicants can boast of top grades from their studies. The question then is how do you differentiate the very good from the exceptional? One of the answers for me lies in your ability to demonstrate initiative. Essentially, what have you done to make yourself stand out from the crowd and get through that first sift of CVs where spelling mistakes and lack of demonstration of your wider skills outside of academia lead to a lack of a reply from your potential future employer.

Employers want to know what you have been doing with your time during holidays or between gaps in jobs. It does not have to be in exactly the same sector as the one you want to ideally work in as many of the skills are transferrable. An apprenticeship provides an opportunity to do just that: enhance your skills & experience whilst retaining a degree of flexibility but also offering the chance to gain a permanent job if you impress. I’m not here to downplay the value of degree courses at university but it is clear to see that the opportunity to learn and develop, whilst earning a salary, is an increasingly attractive proposition.’

Not sure what the Apprenticeship Levy is? Don’t worry. Find all you need to know here.

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