How to create part-time apprenticeships – and why you should

By Emma Stewart


05 11 2020

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As we enter this year’s Lifelong Learning Week, we should recognise that what this event stands for is more relevant than ever. The pandemic is having a drastic effect on the economy; the CEBR has predicted that just under three million people may be unemployed by Christmas, and whole sectors, including retail, hospitality and travel, are struggling for survival. For the people caught up in the fallout, being supported to retrain, and find new roles, will be life-changing.

My organisation, Timewise, is a flexible working specialist, with the simple aim of making good jobs flexible, and flexible jobs good. We know that many people who are losing their jobs need flexibility in order to work. And we have always believed that the jobs market needs to accommodate those who need to flex, and help them improve their skills and progress.

It’s for this reason, even before the pandemic hit, that we explored the potential of part-time apprenticeships. Having discovered that fewer than 1 in 10 apprenticeships were part-time, which was shutting out key groups who needed to work flexibly, we designed and developed a pilot with Camden Council, Hackney Council and LNWH NHS Trust. And our insights make useful reading for anyone who is keen to support employees to ‘learn while they earn’.

The barriers to part-time apprenticeships

The pilot highlighted three main barriers to the creation of part-time apprenticeships:

  • Negative perceptions from managers that all apprentices are 16-year-olds who will not add value, and that part-timers are not committed employees.
  • Operational concerns that looking after apprentices takes up too much time, and that there is no blueprint for how to make an apprenticeship work on a part-time basis.
  • Systemic barriers around limits to how the Apprenticeship Levy can be used, and the fact that the business model for training providers isn’t set up to facilitate part-time training.

What can employers learn from our pilot?

With barriers such as these to overcome, it’s no surprise that part-time apprenticeships are so rare. Nevertheless, our pilot did result in the creation of a number of schemes, and the successful recruitment of 10 part-time apprentices. Here are our key learnings, which could help other employers who to take a similar path.

  • The demand for part-time apprenticeships is real. We saw a fourfold increase in applications for apprenticeship roles advertised as part-time.
  • The best place to start is where part-time exists. Creating a scheme for a job that is already proven to work part-time is much more straightforward than trying to make a full-time role into a part-time apprenticeship.
  • The business case should drive your choices. Focusing on parts of the business where you have skills or resource gaps, will make it easier to bring managers on board.
  • The myths need busting. Challenge perceptions about ‘learn while you earn’ programmes only being for the young. Share case studies of returners who have retrained on the job.
  • Training providers need to be brought on board. Show them that there is a demand for part-time training schemes, and ask them to provide it.

There’s clearly a role for government here; the Apprenticeships Levy needs to be able to be more flexibly applied. But employers who embrace part-time apprenticeships will not just get a return on their Levy payments; they will also give timely support to the people who need it most.

Emma Stewart is CEO at Timewise, a flexible working specialist, with the simple aim of making good jobs flexible, and flexible jobs good. 

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