Addressing recruitment and retention challenges with apprenticeships


“If anyone gives me an opportunity to further my knowledge and career development, I’ll always take it”, says Sarah Heath-Marshall, Community Protection Officer at Walsall Council. Sarah recently completed the Credit Services Association’s (CSA) Level 4 Regulatory Compliance Officer (RCO) apprenticeship, and is a glowing example of how apprenticeships are not just for employees new to a company, but also offers an excellent option for existing staff to further their personal and professional development, while enabling their employers to receive a return on investment through upskilling their current workforce.

Helena Baxter, Apprenticeship Programme Lead at Walsall Council explains how the CSA provided a specialist service to meet their requirements: “We have 400 apprentices across the Council and work with 60 different training providers, 14 of which deal with the majority of our apprenticeships. CSA is one of our ‘niche providers’ which are really important to us to ensure that, where specialist expertise is needed, it is built into the programme and delivery.

“Regulatory Compliance is one such area where having a specialist provider is really beneficial. In fact, we started working with the CSA, who we’d previously worked with on credit control apprenticeships, on the Level 4 Regulatory Compliance Officer Apprenticeship after not having a good experience with another more general provider. We were immediately impressed with their bespoke approach tailored to our specific requirements and learners.”

77% of HR leaders are having problems both recruiting – and keeping – employees.

A recent survey by advisory company Willis Towers Watson revealed that 77% of HR leaders are having problems both recruiting – and keeping – employees. A perceived lack of career opportunities is one of the factors identified by HR professionals as a contributor to the difficulties with staff retention, something which offering apprenticeships to existing employees can go some way to addressing. Sarah explains how her apprenticeship helped to develop her existing skills and also provide a career pathway going forward: “A few years ago, a group of Walsall Council’s services areas– environmental crime, anti-social behaviour, licensing enforcement, statutory nuisance – were merged into one team. Having worked at the organisation for 20 years, I saw my role evolve from Anti-Social Behaviour Officer to Community Protection Officer, giving me a wider remit and set of responsibilities.

“The Council had identified a need to upskill team members in regulatory compliance and I was given the opportunity to apply to take up one of a handful of apprenticeships available. The Level 4 RCO Apprenticeship, which has a professional certificate built into it, was a really good opportunity to get another well-recognised qualification which would help to secure my career in a regulatory enforcement environment.”

Sarah says that her experience with the apprenticeship has contributed to her continuing development: “The RCO Apprenticeship has given me the knowledge and skills to do my job better, but it’s also given me the confidence to challenge things so that we can work better and deliver better services at a strategic level. We are going through another service re-design at the moment and I’m hopeful that I can streamline the work in the team to make it more efficient and consistent and try to address silo working by bringing my broader perspective to things.”


Helena explains how Sarah’s completion of the apprenticeship has brought benefits to Walsall Council, and that they are working with the CSA to put a new employee through a different course: “Not only has the Council got excellent return on investment from the knowledge and skills Sarah’s gained, but she’s become a real ambassador for apprenticeships in general, supporting our other apprentices and even going into schools to tell students about the range of roles and careers available within Local Government. Specialist apprenticeships like the ones offered by CSA in business-critical areas like compliance show the outside world that the Council does a lot more than just empty the bins!

“We’re now working with CSA on a Level 2 Credit Controller & Collector Apprenticeship for a new recruit in our income collection department and we’ve got an existing employee starting on CSA’s Level 4 Counter Fraud Investigator programme.”

Sarah says that the service offered by the CSA ensured that the needs of both herself and her employer were met: “My CSA tutor took the time to pull together all my existing work and experience to understand exactly where I was at so that the course could be tailored to my needs.

“My experience with CSA as a training provider has been amazing, including how they helped me with paperwork to ensure that everything ran smoothly, and that all one-to-ones and reviews were done on time while taking into account my workload and daily pressures. The flexibility offered, especially around the time of the pandemic, made everything a lot easier and the virtual learning was really interactive, bringing all the benefits of being in the classroom without the travel time.”

To cap it all off, Sarah became an apprenticeship ambassador: “As well as the benefits to my own career and my immediate team, a big thing for me has been becoming an apprenticeship ambassador as it’s given me the opportunity to ‘give something back’. I truly believe that the opportunity to do work-based learning is empowering and also that employers get a greater return on investment from investing in the development of long-standing staff.”

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The Credit Services Association (CSA) is the only National Trade Association in the UK for organisations active in the debt collection and debt purchase industry. The Association, which has a history dating back to 1906, has over 250 member companies which represent 90% of the industry, and employ 11,000 people. At any one time its members hold up to £60bn for collection, returning nearly £4bn in collections to the UK economy per annum. As the voice of the collections industry, our vision is to build confidence in debt collection by making the entire process clear, easy to understand and less stressful for all those involved.

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