Dee McManus is an experienced workforce development professional, boasting more than 25 years’ experience in the field. She’s provided strategic advice to SMEs across a wide range of sectors – working with directors and senior managers to improve people and processes. If you’ve got a burning question that you’d like Dee to answer, don’t hesitate to let us know via TwitterLinkedIn or email.

In this month’s column, Dee looks at the Apprenticeship Levy, company training budgets, and getting the most out of training courses, and teambuilding.

The Apprenticeship Levy – What can we do?

Q. We’ve been paying the Apprenticeship Levy since April, but we don’t normally recruit apprentices. Is there any way that we can get something back for our money?

Engaging with apprenticeships for the first time can be daunting, not to mention the complexity involved in working out how much you’ve got to pay, the funding for training you’ll have available and procuring training.

First of all, don’t rule out taking on young apprentices, even if you haven’t done so before. Apprenticeships are now available in a whole range of occupations and not just those traditional trades. As well as the more established technical and manual routes, there’s more than 500 new apprenticeship standards in development – many of which focus on professional areas like HR, leadership, financial services and marketing.

Employers have long reported that new apprentices can bring a new energy to an organisation, introducing new ideas as well as boosting productivity.

However, recent reforms mean you can also use levy funding to up-skill your existing staff and this could mean you don’t have to go through the process of finding someone suitable to fit your organisation. 

Your staff are already embedded in your company, they know about your business culture and how things work. Bringing new skills and qualifications to people who already have tacitly committed to your organisation, for instance in management and leadership, may be the best choice for your apprenticeship levy strategy. The arrangements can be quite complex, but there’s a lot of advice and support out there.  

Are we getting the most out of our training budget?

We have a training budget and each member of staff has an annual allocation that they can choose to spend on training. Engagement has been lacklustre and we’re wondering if there’s a better way to organise things to produce better outcomes and prevent the exercise from becoming a box-ticking activity.

While it’s good to encourage learning in general, it sounds like you’re not really linking your training budget to your organisational needs. In my experience, I’ve often found that employers don’t have a full picture of the existing skills of their employees, so a skills audit can be a good first step. Identifying extant and emerging skills gaps can enable you to put together an organisational development plan that links your company’s vision and mission to your organisation’s training objectives for the next year.

From there, you should be able to match your future skills needs with the skills of your workforce, and identify any gaps that need to be filled. Then as part of your annual appraisal process, you can discuss individuals’ development needs in the context of where the business is heading, and that should lead to a more strategic and effective approach to your organisational development.

Horses for courses

We’ve sent people on training courses, but we don’t always see results. Why might that be?

Do you set SMART objectives before a member of staff goes on a training course?  Do people always understand why they are going for training? Do you do any evaluation after a training course to see if the objectives have been met, or if further training needs have emerged?

It’s all too easy to send someone on a course and assume that everything will be fine, but investing a bit of time in preparing together for the training and properly following up afterwards can pay real dividends for both the individual and the company. It also reinforces the point that you are genuinely interested in your staff’s development and are not just looking for an easy answer to a perceived problem.


We’ve brought a number of people from different sites together into a single team, and they’re not really ‘gelling’. How can we bring them closer together and foster better collaboration?

Teambuilding events or activities can sometimes get a bad press, with some people feeling that they are just a frivolous waste of time, but handled in the right way, they can be extremely valuable in the circumstances you describe. 

They give the participants the chance to get to know each other outside the work environment and can give you the opportunity to foster the kind of culture, values and behaviours that you expect.

I often find it useful to use actual scenarios from the workplace in role play exercises, so that people can easily relate the content to their daily work and learn lessons in a non-threatening environment. And it does no harm to have some fun while you’re doing it!

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