Meet Jane, Group Head of Workforce Development, Lifeways

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Tell us about Lifeways?

Lifeways is one of the UK’s leading providers of support services for people with diverse and often complex needs in community settings.

They offer a choice of support options including supported living, community support, residential, high complex care, short breaks and respite and transitional support for young adults.

What was your initial reaction to the levy?

Mixed. Because the information wasn’t forthcoming at the beginning there were a lot of myths to be debunked. Once I’d cut through that I felt and still feel it is the right thing to do – to encourage employers to recruit and support apprenticeships across all industries. 

I don’t like the phrase ‘tax’ because I don’t think it is. Yes we don’t have a choice as a large employer and it is an added cost to an already financially challenging period. In addition we previously have been successful in accessing over £1m worth of Skills Funding Agency money via our training provider to support the achievement of vocational learning, but if we view it as an investment in our staff’s learning and development then it can only support retention and engagement of our workforce. 

Once I understood that we could use the levy to support our ongoing strategy to upskill our existing workforce then the important thing was to ensure we maximised the investment. It does also provide an opportunity to review where we can recruit into more apprenticeship posts across the group.

How did you prepare? What steps did you take?

I undertook a lot of my own research starting over 12 months ago – using the internet, attending various workshops, events, webinars, to help me understand the levy in more detail. This helped me share key messages early doors across the group. I made sure my team were briefed, and wrote internal briefing notes to operations colleagues.

I presented the main headlines of the three main changes – standards, levy, and the apprenticeship system to the executive board in December 2016. In addition I have revised internal processes to ensure that we could start utilising the levy from May 2017.

As an organisation we already work closely with one of the largest providers of vocational learning in the UK. We have implemented robust control measures at the application and contracting stages, and we also have strong internal processes therefore I felt confident that this would not be too much of a culture shock for all involved. 

Working closely with the training provider, Lifetime, has also provided me with an opportunity to ask ask questions, and voice my concerns in relation to some of the ambiguous areas. For example early on I was concerned about the 20% off work learning, and the impact this may have on additional paid time off work. However due to my strong relationship with Lifetime they quickly put my concern at ease by explaining what role they play in ensuring that all formal and informal learning will be identified, and captured. In addition they simplified the understanding that the 20% element is not new, and essentially is a ‘reframing’ of the mandatory off-the-job proportion of the original guided learning hours.

I was also fortunate to be involved in a roundtable discussion with Keith Smith, from the SFA, and also the Minister for Education in Scotland Jamie Hepburn. This provided an opportunity to discuss the challenges that we, as large care providers will face as a result of the levy. 

Lifeways also took part in the pilot testing of the apprenticeship system. I wanted to be fully prepared for what this might look and feel like. Being involved helped us assess that it was a very easy system and would fit well with our internal processes, and contracting process with our training provider.

What advice would you give to other levy paying employers in social care?

Find the right training provider who will work with you. I very much feel Lifetime are on this journey with us.

Review your internal processes and introduce clear guidance for the selection, and application stages, and ensure managers really understand their role, particularly in relation to the end-point assessment. Although this may be directly linked to the changes to the standards, as a monthly debit take places from the levy, managers really do need to understand the implications of commitment and engagement for members of their team to undertake the qualification. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and ask questions of your training provider. 

Do you see the levy as a positive change?

Most definitely, particularly as I view it as an investment in relation to the recruitment and/or upskilling of staff that supports a whole organisation approach to engagement, retention and development. It has also encouraged us to review how we currently manage vocational learning at Lifeways, and this led us to becoming highly commended at the regional events for the National Apprenticeship Awards, and also to be included on the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers list 2017. Something we wouldn’t have considered 18 months ago.

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