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How to align apprenticeship programmes with the current recruitment landscape

23 September 2020

A guest blog written by Phil Golding, Partnerships Manager, SDN.

The workforce needs of businesses are changing rapidly.

Technological advancement replaces jobs that were once in high demand and new roles with new skills emerge in their place.

So, how can colleges and training providers align their apprenticeship curriculum to support this ever-changing need? To provide employers with a pipeline of talent that has both the technical and transferrable skills needed to progress into roles that might not even have been invented yet…


It starts with a flexible system

Before we get into the detail of delivering employer-focused training, it’s important to reflect on why apprenticeship standards came about in the first place.

The government at the time wanted employers to be ‘in the driving seat’ of the apprenticeship reforms. This meant trailblazer groups spelling out what a competent worker looked like on completion of an apprenticeship and an end-point assessment offering a blunt competent/not competent outcome, a bit like a driving test. What was missing, and what is different from frameworks, was the roadmap to get there.

This is important to remember. Standards gives all providers the chance to innovate, to create a truly bespoke curriculum that works for both employer and apprentice. As long as the learner is working towards the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) in the standard, the provider can work more closely with the employer than ever before.

Standards provide an opportunity to really get under the skin of what employers need from a talent pipeline and then set about helping them achieve it through a high-quality training programme.


To do this well, it’s important to involve the employer at the curriculum development stage. Of course, you will be able to work in more depth with some employers than others, due to volume of starts, but none the less the more partnership work you can undertake with employers on their curriculum the more likely you are to reap the rewards through better buy-in, better outcomes for apprentices, programme satisfaction and repeat business.

To help with this, consider what off-the-job training the employer can offer that will count towards the 20% requirement. Many employers are left frustrated when they have their own internal training programme that apprentices will benefit from, but the provider doesn’t recognise it as part of the off-the-job training element of an apprenticeship.

Employer’s training is often high-quality, relevant and challenging, as they need to stay on-top of developments in their sector to give them the competitive edge. If employers can offer off-the-job experience, talk it through and build it into the programme identifying which KSBs it covers and how you will on-programme assess its validity.


With a scheme of work designed for the employer and tweaked for each individual apprentice, it’s important not to rest on your laurels.

Build in regular employer visits, especially during the early months of a programme. You will be used to discussing how individual apprentices are faring, but it’s also important to talk about the collective cohort to understand if the employer needs apprentices to be stretched and challenged in certain areas. This will give them more chance of progressing in the business on completion of their apprenticeship.

Really think through how you will teach transferable skills and behaviours too. Yes, once the programme is finished and the apprentices have passed, your work with that cohort is over, but because we are living in such a rapidly changing world you can leave a lasting legacy by paying particular attention to developing transferable skills.

Look through the behaviours in the standard and really focus in on how you will bring them to life throughout your programme. You will probably notice that many of the behaviours listed are applicable to the industry as a whole. Embedding these particular transferable behaviours regularly and consistently will give apprentices a better chance of progressing into those unknown jobs of the future.


Most providers build in feedback loops with the learner and employer to understand how the programme went as it nears its conclusion. Try to get objective feedback, not just plaudits for the good job you did.

You could have run an outstanding programme where the employer is delighted with the results, but if you can understand how to continuously improve, know which KSBs will be more of a focus next year, you can tweak that programme year on year. It will therefore stay current and in keeping with the changing business environment.

Likewise, ask about other areas of the business where the employer struggles to recruit, where there are growing skills gaps or their future plans to move into new markets – and how that might affect workforce development. Even if you can’t provide a ready-made solution, this feedback can be collated and compared with the other employers you work with to build up an understanding of which apprenticeship programmes will be popular in the future. You can then begin planning to best help those clients to develop their workforce just as they need it.

Preparing for longer-term talent pipeline needs

As suggested above, there are lots of ways you can respond to the talent pipeline needs of employers now and look at their future needs, but what about bigger longer-term trends? Using data, how might you start to respond to the big shifts in the way industries, occupations and skills are changing?

There are now several data tools that have been designed specifically for education providers which, for example, analyse job postings across the country and directly map how industries are changing at a local level. These will look at what new jobs are appearing, which are disappearing and what skills employers are looking for. Local Enterprise Partnerships will often publish research on this too. Keeping an eye on these longer-term trends will help future-proof your curriculum and widen offers to employers.

For more information on developing apprenticeship programmes at your college, please visit our consultancy page on growing your apprenticeship provision.

Apprenticeships Now and in the 2020s – AoC-SDN online conference

We’re excited to announce that on 10-11 November 2020, the Association of Colleges and SDN are hosting an online conference to help you consider what this all means for you and your organisation. With sessions for leaders and practitioners, the focus is on apprenticeships now and in the 2020s – we’ll take a look at how you can build strong long-term relationships with employers, the skills needed by those delivering great apprenticeship provision and the technology that can help to underpin this.

The conference is open to all apprenticeship providers. Find out more here.