Selling apprenticeships – we just don’t know how to do it!

Every single month since the launch of the apprenticeship levy, the press has highlighted the decline in numbers. Trade and national press alike revealed a ‘shocking’ 40% drop in February 2018 starts compared to the previous year.  The reality is a 25% decline since May last year, but there are more factors at play than a binary analysis reveals.


The published statistics tell us how many apprenticeships have begun and how much apprenticeship levy has been spent.  This does not take account of the fact that the best providers are supporting employers to plan their levy strategically. These employers may not have spent much yet, but likely to have a very clear plan in how it will be spent. This may not include a sprint on starts but a phased plan to fill identified skills gaps or support growth or longer-term succession planning.  Nor does a head-count consider the disparity when Funding Band 1 is £1,500 and Funding Band 30 is a whopping £27,000.  The indications are that employers are migrating apprenticeship delivery to higher funding bands.


Many commentators have seized on the recent Open University analysis of £1.39 billion pounds levy collected to date, whilst employers have spent only 8% in the first 10 months of the programme with the balance of £1.28 billion sitting with HMRC. Many blame employers for failing to utilise their investment, others blame the Government for the complexity of the levy alongside the change from apprenticeship frameworks to standards all at the same time.  It is all those things, but surely training providers and colleges must take a share of the blame and be the ones to provide the solution – we might know how to deliver, but do we know how to sell apprenticeships to employers?


For the past 10 years, we have received a direct Government allocation, and because success was measured in the consumption of that allocation, we have ‘sold’ apprenticeships for free.  In some cases, we have even offered additional extras as an incentive.  It’s an oxymoron that whilst other sectors have invested in high level sales training for years, the skills sector simply does not and has not.


The tables have turned, the days of the outgoing call centre is passed, we now need to pitch to the decision maker who can unlock the levy pot. To do this we must understand the employer’s business, identify the pressure points and skills gaps, sell the benefits of apprenticeships, design a solution and measure the impact of the levy investment on the business and their people.


At Red 5 Solutions, the demand for ‘good sales people’ is huge, but does the skillset of the previous generation match the consultative selling requirements needed since the reforms. What can we learn from the selling approaches from other sectors such as commercial training, recruitment or IT sales?


Is there a need to re-train existing sales people within the apprenticeship sector on how to adjust their sales approach?  Or, as some providers we have already helped, target people from other sectors that have never been able to rely on the free sell, and teach them the sector knowledge?