BAE has more than 2,000 apprentices training in its own schemes across the UK, including some that specialise in procurement  ©Bloomberg/Getty Images
BAE has more than 2,000 apprentices training in its own schemes across the UK, including some that specialise in procurement ©Bloomberg/Getty Images

How to set up and run a great apprenticeship scheme

Two years after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, and a year on from the launch of an official procurement and supply apprenticeship, SM reveals how to make training work for your business

Apprenticeships are not just for those looking for a chunk of Lord Sugar’s cash or to become master sorcerers.
They are also a great way to attract trainees into your business or offer career progression to existing staff.

“Apprenticeships are the perfect win-win for employees and employers as they encompass a broad learning programme that allows your people to hit the ground running, applying their new skills and knowledge to their job throughout their studies,” says CIPS group CEO Malcolm Harrison.

On-the-job training has been around for a long time and many companies already run their own schemes, but in 2016 the UK government announced a tax to try to increase the number on offer. 

Since April 2017 employers with a pay bill of more than £3m have been required to pay 0.5% of this towards the apprenticeship levy through PAYE each month. There is an allowance of £15,000, which reduces the amount paid towards the levy, and the government tops up payments by 10%. Funds sit in a digital account and contributing employers can use their money to pay for apprentices’ training or assessments. And companies lose their funds if they don’t spend them within 24 months.

Most traineeships last around two years and apprentices have to earn at least government-set minimum wages.

The Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), sponsored by the Department for Education, is the body that signs off on whether an apprenticeship standard or framework can go ahead. New standards are proposed by employer development groups and training providers and contain the core knowledge, skills and behaviour apprentice candidates must demonstrate to complete training in a particular field. So far, there are 657 apprenticeship standards, at levels ranging 2-7 listed on the IfA’s website although some are still in the development stage. Choices cover everything from abattoir to youth worker, storyboard artist to stonemason.

The IfA approved the ‘commercial procurement and supply professional’ apprenticeship (formerly the ‘public sector commercial professional’ scheme) for delivery from December 2017. It encompasses the entire procurement cycle, training in the buying of goods and services that enable an organisation to operate, and includes CIPS Level 4 Diploma qualification. 

Designed to boost employment and productivity, the government hoped the levy would create three million more apprenticeships by 2020, but employers have called the system complex and inflexible. Figures up to June 2018 show a 28% drop over the previous year – 341,700 new starters, compared with 472,500 in the previous 12 months.

To help address this, chancellor Philip Hammond announced in October that from spring 2019 employers will be able to invest a quarter of their apprenticeship fund on people working for suppliers, and some small businesses will have their fees halved to 5%. 

Commit to committing

While some take up the IfA procurement apprenticeship, others stick to their own internal programmes. Regardless of which approach you favour there are common challenges to consider.

Charlotte Payne, head of academic partnerships at CIPS, says while apprenticeships can be a means of accessing skills, improving productivity and bringing people into procurement, the execution of the IfA scheme has so far been variable.

“One thing some employers have overlooked,” she warns, “is the commitment required from them to make it a success. They need the right infrastructure – structures and support – and they need to put a lot of time and effort in.”  

This includes a manager being present at the ‘end point assessment’ alongside their apprentice candidate. That individual has to be MCIPS or equivalent, which could see smaller businesses running into trouble if they don’t have staff with these qualifications.

In some cases it has been the amount of off-the-job training (20%) that has been hard to manage. Others have preferred to stick to ensuring staff get the CIPS level 4 qualification without wrap-around apprenticeship training. And elsewhere employers with specific requirements have preferred to continue to enjoy the control and independence afforded by their own schemes.

Angele Cauthery, business development and CIPS programme manager at London Metropolitan University, a CIPS training centre of excellence, has a number of cohorts currently undertaking the procurement and supply apprenticeship. She says, however, that for some employers it is just “too long, too complicated and too much time away from work”. “It’s a good initiative, it just needs a lot of dusting to be made simpler,” she adds. 

Procurement Academy director Mandy Chippendale also highlights the complexities of arrangements. However, done correctly, she believes these schemes can offer a holistic approach to training with learners supported by a coach and having a work-based project to complete as part of their final assessment, which can bring immediate benefits. “We see many of our learners taking ideas back into the workplace even before they have sat their first exam, which is most reassuring,” she says.


Retail titan Sainsbury’s has more than 30 apprenticeship programmes to support everyone from bakery and fish counter employees to accountants and cyber security staff. Adding to that, it has recently set up a procurement and supply apprenticeship across its food commercial and procurement teams. It set up the programme, particularly to assist traders who have expertise in specialist buying but lack formal procurement training. 

“This is a fantastic opportunity to provide colleagues across our food commercial and procurement teams with industry accredited training, using their breadth and depth of experience to position themselves as fully effective, commercially skilled professionals,” says Jo Oakley, a senior talent partner at Sainsbury’s. Procurement professional Adrian Cook, director of fresh food, backed the move – support that Oakley says is invaluable when establishing a new scheme.  “I would advise any other business to gain this commitment from senior stakeholders as early on as possible.”

The programme began in the autumn. Between then and March 2019, three cohorts totalling 30 apprentices from its buying, supply chain, Sainsbury’s brand, commercial operations and procurement teams, will begin training. It will be delivered by experienced procurement professionals through tutors and a blend of face-to-face and online support, and will require 20% off-the-job training. Everyone will be paired with a mentor to support them through their learning journey and line managers will play a pivotal part in supporting them to complete challenging work-related projects, as well as to take time out to learn and study. 

BAE Systems

Engineering giant BAE Systems has more than 2,000 apprentices in training across the UK as part of its strategic workforce planning. The company’s air sector, which has sites in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Somerset, has run its own business management apprenticeship scheme for the past decade, during which it has recruited and trained more than 80 apprentices specialising in procurement. Some, like Claire Rowlandson, have gone on to become senior purchasers in the business (see case study below).

Helen Croasdale, capability manager in air procurement, says specific objectives and development plans are set for each apprentice so they are clear on what they need to achieve and are supported in doing so.

“For these schemes to work, you have to prepare for them,” she says. “You need a strong framework of regular reviews, and placements must be structured to develop the skills you need. It will fail if an apprentice starts and you don’t have that mechanism in place. You can’t go into it thinking you’re just getting another pair of hands. You invest now to reap the benefits later.”

Regular reviews keep people motivated, engaged and on-track. “You can stretch, nurture and develop them as they go and if they are struggling you can identify problems early on,” says Croasdale. “It’s about coaching and encouragement. If someone is 16 and joins a business like ours it can be pretty daunting. Our leadership team and directors spend a lot of time engaging with them at events helping to mentor them.”

Skills and behaviours are developed on the job, while knowledge and awareness of the wider business environment is taught at BAE’s Academy for Skills & Knowledge two days a month. Where many other companies are using the levy to put existing employees through apprenticeships to deepen skills and knowledge or as a means of offering a progression path, all of the new procurement recruits at the air division have joined from outside the business.

The apprenticeship has been widely publicised to young people locally through various events and social media and some individuals have come through the employer collaboration Movement to Work. In addition to this, over the past 18 months air procurement has invited school pupils and college students into its Academy to try to introduce them to procurement skills through fun activities. “We saw a gap in our talent pipeline so we’ve been reaching out and inviting pupils to our site,” says Croasdale. “They spend a day with us and we talk to them and do some negotiation training. It’s already making a difference, with applications coming though from the schools we’ve worked with.”

Whether running training for an individual or dozens of new-starters; and regardless if you manage your own programme or the IfA scheme, for apprentices to flourish, stay the course and benefit your business once done they require ongoing input and support.

It is still early days for the government-backed procurement apprenticeship. Hundreds have training underway and new standards at level 3 and level 5/6 are in development, so we could yet see apprenticeships boosting the number of people starting their career in procurement and supply, building a pipeline of talent for the future.  

Running an apprenticeship scheme: dos and don'ts

Case studies: BAE Systems and Sainsbury's learning journeys 

Rotherham, South Yorkshire
London (South), London (Greater)
£49k circa
Historic Royal Palaces
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