A recent letter signed by a group of 50 cross-bench MPs highlighted the lessons the public sector could learn from their private sector colleagues. And one of these lessons is around apprenticeships.
The private sector collections Industry has long since led the way on issues such as vulnerability and treating customers fairly (TCF). It has similarly led the way in terms of training, and ‘professionalising’ debt collection practices and its people.
As an Apprenticeships Main Provider on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP), the CSA has been working closely with a number of Local Authorities to develop dedicated programmes to support their employees. And there are few better examples – or champions of apprenticeships – than Walsall Council.
With some 8,000 employees, Walsall Council currently has around 400 apprentices at various stages of their career development, watched over by Apprenticeship Programme Lead, Helena Baxter.
As with the credit and collections apprenticeship, it uses a blended approach to training to include workshops, e-learning and tutorials, with dedicated mentors and assessors.
Having moved over from the private to the public sector, Helena has continued to promote Council-led apprenticeships within schools and the wider business community, as well as developing the skills of existing employees. The programme has proven so popular that it even has its own brand – Endless Possibilities – which perfectly captures the Council’s commitment to investing in people:
“Few people are aware of the exciting apprenticeship opportunities that exist within a council,” Helena explains. “We’ve recently taken on a Civil Engineering Apprentice, Finance Apprentices, and even a Facilities Management Apprentice who is only 17. Over half of all of our apprentices work within our Primary Schools, and we actively promote our apprenticeship opportunities in the local community and further afield within the West Midlands’ network.”
When it came to finding an apprenticeship training provider for credit and collections, Helena approached three separate providers before choosing the CSA: “I was immediately impressed,” Helena says. “Even though they are based in Newcastle, they came to see us in person to talk through our needs and the apprenticeship training they provided. Apprenticeships are all about employer engagement, and the CSA was very much engaged with us from the start. Their professionalism shone through.”
The CSA’s credit and collections apprenticeships are designed for all levels of experience, beginning with the key principles of credit control and working through to an understanding of legislation, regulation and compliance. They equip apprentices with the practical skills and technical knowledge they need to help their organisations succeed, as well as the personal skills and teamworking abilities they will need to support their own career development.
And Helena didn’t stop there. She returned to the CSA for a further apprenticeship in regulatory compliance: “We were using a different provider but were having a few issues and so when I learned that the CSA could also deliver a Regulatory Compliance Officer Apprenticeship, we moved the training across to them.”
The Regulatory Compliance Officer Apprenticeship similarly equips employees with the skills they need to help create a positive and supportive business environment whilst also assuring public and environmental protection. As with the credit and collections apprenticeship, it uses a blended approach to training to include workshops, e-learning and tutorials, with dedicated mentors and assessors.
Helena says that to date, feedback has been excellent from all of her apprentices: “We may be perceived as a demanding client however we expect our training providers to deliver high quality training and communication is key,” she continues. “The CSA has been fast to respond and always comes back to us quickly on any questions we may have.”
We are always looking at new apprenticeship opportunities and are currently exploring a new apprenticeship to train a Counter Fraud Investigator: “It was something we were considering just before lockdown and are now looking at again,” she says.
Another ‘pioneer’ in apprenticeship training programmes, and benefiting from private sector expertise, is Cheshire East Council which has over 200 different types of apprenticeships in more than 1200 different areas.
Claiming to be the first local authority in the North West to see the true value of apprentices, Cheshire East Council provides the opportunity to study, learn and grow in a chosen career, whilst receiving an income. Apprenticeships vary, and one of the most recent programmes is focused on compliance. It specifically delivers training and qualifications to become a Regulatory Compliance Officer.
Rick Hughes, Community Protection Manager at Cheshire East Council has played a key role in this course, helping to detail the programme and implement further learning within the Chartered Trading Standards qualification framework.
When it came to finding a professional apprenticeship training provider for the programme, Rick thoroughly explored the options before choosing the CSA: “We chose the CSA as we felt their engagement with the Heads of Service was impressive,” Rick says.
Rick notes that working with the CSA has been a good experience: “They are clear in what they expect and are encouraging during our meetings. They make the paperwork straightforward and easy to understand and, working with them has been a pleasure.”
The Regulatory Compliance Officer apprenticeship equips employees with the skills they need to become a trading standards officer, where they will help businesses and the local authority itself implement and comply with their regulatory and legal requirements. The apprenticeship standard is varied and provides unlimited opportunities, with the choice to take on different tasks and specialise in areas such as environmental health.
The apprenticeship has proven popular; the two spaces advertised received more than 80 applications. Rick says that the lucky two apprentices have been with the Council for a year now and enjoy the course: “The apprentices are loving it; they are really enjoying every aspect of their learning and interacting with the CSA team,” he says.
Rick believes that the public sector can learn a great deal from the private sector. In the past, trading standards professionals have typically come into the profession through university, but due to a lack of courses now available, the public sector has had to embrace apprenticeship programmes.
“This is the first time trading standards have used apprentices and now local authorities are learning that this is the only and best way to get new blood into the profession. We have learned to use the apprenticeship scheme properly and I don’t think as a profession we have ever done that until now,” he concludes.