Employers are becoming increasingly savvy about what they want from training providers. Annette Allmark explains exactly how to make your pitch stand out and win more business

It’s almost six months since the levy was introduced, enough time to make an initial assessment.

After a snapshot survey in August, we discovered that employers struggle to find a provider that meets their business needs. Almost two thirds say it is hard to get an outstanding service, and half say providers’ readiness to deliver apprenticeships under the new system is poor or very poor.

So we decided to ask what employers really want from an apprenticeship provider.

A good cultural fit

From the businesses we spoke to, it’s clear that employers are looking for long-term partnerships with providers.

The role of cultural fit in underpinning this relationship was deemed critical: apprenticeships are a journey and the right provider has to take the time to understand the culture and values of a business if it wants to become a trusted travelling companion.

“If they turned up to pitch with a generic presentation when they’d been given a lot of detail in the brief about the values, culture, and what was important to us, and that did not come across in the presentation, they would be ruled out,” wrote one employer whose comment was broadly illustrative.

Providers also need to understand that there can be big difference between a company’s internal and external brands. One large national restaurant chain told us that a provider turned up and based its presentation on its external brand, even though in the brief it had been given lots of information about the internal culture.

Tailor-made training

The clear message is that employers will not be satisfied with generic, cookie-cutter solutions. Rather, they are looking for a tailored, flexible approach that uses the new standards and fits into their way of doing business.

“They need to focus more on the stuff they do differently, rather than the stuff they do as standard,” said one employer.

Another rejected a provider because “it felt like we were going to be squeezed into how they did things”.

Passion for apprenticeships

A commitment to the cause is also important, above and beyond delivering the training. One employer told us that it wanted to work with providers that cared as much as it does, and which could really demonstrate true passion about apprenticeships.

“If we get the right people who are really passionate about what they’re doing, and they have the same degree of excellence that we aspire to achieve, then I know we are on to a really good thing,” said the employer.

Insider knowledge

Building relationships with internal stakeholders also emerged as something providers could improve upon. Providers need to have a rapport and relationship with the management and operations teams as well as HR, because their buy-in is vital for the success of any apprenticeship programme.

They also need to understand how the business’s recruitment process works and how the role of apprenticeships fits in with its broader talent management strategy.

Simplifying bureaucracy

The complexity of the information that emerges from the government has been a hallmark of recent reforms. Anything that can help relieve the burden on employers when it comes to complicated processes such as evidencing 20 per cent off-the-job learning – which is often cited by businesses we talk to as a source of particular confusion – is a vital component in any offer.

Overall, it’s encouraging that almost 60 per cent of the businesses we surveyed are confident that they will see a positive return from their investment, but it’s clear that being assured of quality in the delivery of apprenticeships is really key for employers, and that working in true partnership with providers is vital to their success.

Annette Allmark is director of strategic policy at People 1st