How the civil service is championing apprenticeships

Written by Julie Taylor on 7 March 2018 in Feature

Julie Taylor is committed to the civil service’s apprenticeship strategy and tells us more about its ambition and success

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Like a lot of people of my generation, I went to university at 18 because it seemed like the only route to the career I wanted.

Looking back, I can see it would have been better for me to combine studying with working, partly because I am a practical learner who likes to see the application as well as the theory, but also because (as I discovered later) I am more productive in the structured environment of the workplace.

 I am therefore heartened to see the significant progress of the last few years in developing apprenticeships as a genuine alternative to university. And I am delighted to be the civil service champion for apprenticeships.


We are determined to make apprenticeships a route of choice into the civil service, as well as a way for people to update skills or retrain when already established. We have an ambitious target – we are committed to delivering 30,000 quality apprenticeship starts by 2020, which is 2.3% of our workforce in England each year. This is part of a government initiative to deliver 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, linking to the government’s industrial strategy and providing the skills we need within the economy.

We have described our ambition in the civil service apprenticeship strategy – launched in 2017 and building on the civil service workforce plan – which sets out three important initiatives.

First, to bring in new talent from a diverse range of backgrounds, we actively promote our apprenticeships beyond our traditional recruitment networks. This includes proactively engaging with schools and colleges around the country, informing students about the role of government, the work of civil servants, apprenticeships and our other entry routes. 

In addition, we are working closely with colleagues from the National Apprenticeship Service, who do fantastic work via their Apprenticeship Ambassador networks. We are particularly pleased to support the new Young Ambassador Networks, which were launched by Anne Milton, the minister for apprenticeships and skills, in November 2017 at The Skills Show, Birmingham.

Second, we are building rewarding career paths that develop experience and expertise within specific areas for our existing staff. Our apprenticeship schemes are particularly linked to this and have been designed to help us build talent from the bottom up, providing our apprentices with the chance to get involved in some of the most challenging and rewarding work done by the civil service.

Apprenticeships are important elements of our cross-government workforce strategy, and apprenticeship opportunities can now been found in most professions across government. An example of this is the level 7 accountancy and tax professional, which allows apprentices to become fully qualified accountants. Details of the full range of apprenticeships available can be found on the Institute for Apprenticeships website.

Third, the strategy aims to enhance our current fast track apprenticeship programme. Apprenticeships offer a range of benefits to both the apprentices and the organisations that provide them, which is particularly true of the civil service fast track.

Our programme offers a springboard into a government career and the opportunity to work in a range of professions. The scheme offers level 4 higher apprenticeships and opened for applications at the end of February 2018. The programme will be available across six schemes this year: business administration, commercial, digital and technology, finance, policy and project delivery.

The fast track apprenticeship programme is a fantastic opportunity, with three of the six schemes only requiring five GCSEs to join.

As civil service champion, I have been out and about meeting potential apprentices, those who are currently completing apprenticeships and those who have graduated. I have been struck by the immense energy and enthusiasm people have for apprenticeships – how much more they feel they are able to learn when study is combined with practical experience, how much they appreciate working alongside more experienced colleagues, and of course the value of earning while you learn.

We have more to do in the civil service to improve the quality of apprenticeships and the subsequent careers we offer. Departments and professions across government are all highly committed to developing apprenticeships which attract a diverse workforce, equip them with the right skills and set them up for continued personal development, but they are at different stages of maturity. Some have a clear map of what they want to achieve and are well on the road to implementation, others are just beginning to define their future skills requirement.

And as champion, I am keen to explore whether there is more we can do to support our younger apprentices. We provide a huge amount of development support, especially for those who are just embarking on their careers, to gain skills in problem solving, teamwork, planning and organisation. But we are considering in the longer term what more we should do to support the transition from full-time education to the workplace, and what support we give apprentices to set up home in a new area if they need to.

This has been an extremely busy and exciting year for the civil service in the world of apprenticeships. With the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in April 2017 the focus has been on ensuring that we have the required infrastructure in place in order to deliver high quality learning experiences to our apprentices. We are on track to achieving our goal of 30,000 quality apprenticeship starts by 2020 and we are delighted to be working with outstanding learning providers to help give an excellent experience for all apprentices.

As a result, perceptions about apprenticeships are changing, with more people recognising that they present a unique opportunity to earn and learn at the beginning of a career, or to update skills later. The civil service has such a diverse and exciting range of careers to offer, and it is a matter of great pride to me that we are making these accessible to the widest possible audience, so that we recruit the best people and develop them to their full potential.

This article first appeared in Apprenticeship Update 2018, published by Civil Service World's sister title Training Journal. Read the full update here.

About the author

Julie Taylor chairs the civil service apprenticeship programme board, and is director general, head office and commissioning services, at the Ministry of Defence, where she is also the departmental social mobility champion

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