Elyn Corfield, Lloyds Banking Group’s Ambassador for the North, on how Manchester’s thriving business scene can capitalise on the Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund and unlock the benefits of apprenticeships.
Greater Manchester’s business scene is going from strength to strength. ONS data shows that there are now more than 100,000 companies in the area, up from 79,000 in 2014, and the GVA of the region is a staggering £62.8 billion.
And the city has set its sights on further growth too. The Greater Manchester Strategy lays out plans to grow all our industries, attract new business, and bolster productivity. These ambitions are hugely important and sit alongside other equally important goals like becoming the UK’s leading green and digital city-region.
One way of delivering on these ambitions is to increase the volume and value of apprenticeships we have in the city. And that should be across all business sizes – from the smallest SME to global firms – and cover all the vital skills that our city needs. We know, for example, that many businesses in the region struggle to recruit digital talent and we can overcome this by training apprentices with the specific digital skills firms need for growth such as problem solving, communicating and operating safely online.
The number of apprentices across the region has been declining in recent years, dropping from a peak of over 30,000 in 2016 to 22,500 in 2018, and we need to reverse this trend.
Apprenticeships are hugely valuable both for individuals wanting to break into their industry of choice, and for employers looking to boost their productivity and breathe fresh talent into the workplace. Not only does it bring new energy into a business – and quite often someone with a fresh perspective, an apprentice also gives businesses the chance to train employees to their own operational standards.
An exciting scheme right here on our doorstep, the Greater Manchester Levy Matchmaking Service is transforming how apprenticeships are managed across Greater Manchester.
Delivered by The Growth Company, on behalf of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the service matches larger employers (sponsors) with an underspend in their apprenticeship levy, with smaller businesses looking for essential funding to train new apprentices and develop their existing workforce.
It’s a ground-breaking service and one that Lloyds Banking Group is proud of partnering. We’re committed to helping small businesses prosper and this is why we’ve pledged £1million per year for the next three years to fund the scheme.
Since the service was set up this summer over £400,000 in funding has been agreed in principle, supporting 60 businesses in the creation of 22 apprentices so far. Of these, 21 have been focused on digital skills – something we believe are essential for the future.
It’s fantastic to see these early successes, and to see the wider support for the scheme too, from the Mayor, Andy Burnham who wants Manchester to lead the way in apprentice employment, right down to small firms like digital marketing company, Return on Digital who have been able to hire their fourth apprentice as a result.
But we also need to ask ourselves what we as a business community can do to elevate these successes. In my mind there are two things.
Firstly, we need to work together to make sure every business in Manchester knows the fund is available. From the smallest start-up through to more established organisations, everyone can benefit from an apprentice – especially when there is no pressure to find funding for it.
Secondly, we need large employers to sign up to the Levy Matchmaking Service. At the moment only 11 sponsors have signed to the service. Large firms with a pay bill of more than £3million a year have to pay the apprenticeship levy, and also have the choice to transfer up to 25 per cent of their associated costs to other organisations. By getting other businesses signed up to the Matchmaking Service, we can help provide a healthy pot for Manchester’s small firms to utilise.
Through both these initiatives I’m confident we can boost the number and quality of apprenticeships here in Manchester and make the region’s ambitions for the future a reality.
For more information about Apprenticeship Levy Transfer Fund visit www.levymatchmakingservice.co.uk