What do you think when you hear the term ‘apprentice’? As likely as not, you’ll imagine a school leaver learning a trade, not an established leader honing their skills. For the quite mistaken perception of apprenticeships is that they are only to support young people in vocational training – typically a work-based apprenticeship combining job experience with a day at college.   

Perhaps, at a moment in time when our perceptions about when, where, and how we work, now and in the future are being challenged and changed, now is a good time to review what we know about apprenticeships.   

If you’re part of a management team within an organization, you’ll be responsible for building a team that can help the business meet its strategic objectives.   

You’ll want to hire the right talent and particularly you’ll want to develop your existing team members to bring specific skills to bear on those objectives. Those at senior levels of an organization have huge input and responsibility when it comes to ‘building the future’ of the organization.  

Those involved in management development for some time will have seen far too many ‘accidental managers.’ These are individuals who have been great in practical, functional roles within the organization and have demonstrated technical accomplishment, often to an extraordinary level.  

What they have not had, or needed, or had the opportunity to develop, are leadership skills. They didn’t really know how to build a team, drive performance, manage conflict, develop relationships, persuade or negotiate, because that was not in their job description.  

Then they get promoted and suddenly all of those things do become important and they’re expected to deliver against these new skills, with immediate effect, and often with little to no training.  

It tends not to work out well and accidental leaders struggle to thrive, often deriving comfort from spending too much time on what they used to be rewarded for doing, and ignoring those parts of their new role against which they feel in-equipped to deliver.  

HR departments are wondering what to do next, and accidental managers are struggling to survive.

A clever organization’s L&D budget will be prepared for this scenario and will earmark a proportion of its budget to management development initiatives to help such individuals to either avoid the pitfall, or clamber out of the trap.  

Which is great, when your business isn’t recovering from a pandemic, navigating a cost-of-living crisis where bills are soaring and budgets are not. HR departments are wondering what to do next, and accidental managers are struggling to survive as the job market puts a premium on skills they don’t have. 

Savvy employers in England are looking to their previously unspent levy fund for a solution. And, surprisingly to some, there are lots.  

Many of the apprenticeships on offer are designed for those in work. The programs range from Level 4 to Level 7. Some even come with paid-for degree options at the end. These apprenticeships – mostly fully funded by the levy – teach the skills needed to become innovative leaders. And we’re in desperate need of those.   

What sets apprenticeships apart from other L&D solutions – other than that they’re so cost-effective – is that the teaching has immediate impact back at work. Unlike traditional degree programs that tend to focus on theory, teaching on apprenticeship programs can be directly tailored to your business.  

Interestingly, apprenticeship providers are increasingly being asked to map the content of internal management training programs to the current apprenticeship standards. Perhaps a sign that more employers are looking to make use of their levy fund.

Apprenticeships are here to help businesses produce the people to deliver those plans. 

The best apprenticeship providers – and there are many – focus on embedding the learning and giving apprentices the wider experience of business by taking them out of the silo of their department and providing a holistic view of business.  

This is what can help turn an ‘accidental manager’ into a transformational leader – and that could be a real competitive point of difference for the future.  

Right now, we’re back in a recession and have no real idea when we will be out of it again. But organizations still need to plan. They need strategic goals for the next one, three, and five years, and plans to achieve them. Apprenticeships are here to help businesses produce the people to deliver those plans. 

What all this means is that for organizations in the midst of restructuring, redundancies, and uncertainty, apprenticeships can be a light in the darkness both for the organization and their employees. A reward for excellent work where salaries can’t be increased. A sense of security for employees feeling vulnerable amid uncertainty. A way of preparing individuals to lead organizations into and through transformational change.  



Want to know more about how to access high-quality learning and development opportunities for your employees? Find out about the apprenticeship levy and programs at Ashridge.