On the up · 18 April 2016

LDN Group: Connecting London’s employers with young apprentices

Apprenticeships are an effective way of training young staff
Apprenticeships are an effective way of training young staff

Continuing to profile exciting companies in the small business space, we meet LDN Group – a service delivering young apprentices to companies in London.

It’s all about supporting capital’s young people by connecting with employers – becoming more confident and fostering in them a culture of aspiration.

For the company’s CEO Simon Bozzoli, apprenticeships represent the best chance Britain has at narrowing its broadening skills gap, but more work needs to be done to define and implement a successful apprenticeships strategy.

“There is a lot of hot air circulating about the so-called skills gap,” said Bozzoli. “It’s become a byword business owners use when talking about recruitment, but in reality if a company is looking for a skilled employee they can be found, just not necessarily in the UK.

“Firms can easily hire someone from another country with the right skills, but really the challenge for the UK is to fill the skills gap with British workers. It’s not easy to find people local to businesses that have relevant skills. School leavers aren’t trained and university leavers demand high salaries but don’t have exactly the right skills to hit the ground running in a role.

Businesses of all persuasions are increasingly turning to apprenticeship schemes to upskill potential new workers. Formally associated with tradesmen and blue-collar work, young apprentices are now being taken on by larger corporates in white-collar industries. Defining what an apprenticeship is in 2016 has therefore become a challenge in itself, and LDN Group works in part to distinguish the role of apprentices.

“People confuse apprentices with interns,” said Bozzoli. “They’re completely different things. Apprentices have to be in work for 12 months or more to be paid a certain amount. They have to do a framework of qualifications.

“People have a throwaway attitude to apprenticeships but we are aiming to change that. By entering into partnerships with companies rather than just acting as a recruitment service. What we aim to be is a company’s outsourced apprenticeship partner.

“Employers still need lots of support to help them appreciate that it’s not about hiring a completely competent person on day one. It’s about hiring someone who will become more competent as time goes on.”

Have a look at how Bozzoli got inspiration for his business, and how KPMG Small Business Accounting has helped out along the way.

Many employers don’t recognise what they need from an apprentice and Bozzoli spends a lot of time educating companies about what the real requirements are. As such, he has shaped LDN Group to become a consultative service provider rather than a recruiter.

“Filling holes in companies’ recruitment plans is not what we’re about. We want clients to plan carefully, use us as the apprenticeship partner and make sure we can support them appropriately during that period. It generally takes us a long time to get solid client relationships built up,” Bozzoli said.

One of the unique selling points of LDN Group when it comes to engaging young apprentices is the up close and personal nature of its service. Bozzoli regularly talks at London schools, colleges and universities, whilst LDN Group hosts events, talks and enrichment sessions where candidates get to meet employers face-to-face. Regular “boot camps” also prepare young people for meetings and job interviews.

For Bozzoli, the current minimum wage for an apprentice, at £2.70 an hour, is an outrage, and just one of the issues the government needs to address to encourage young people to take up an apprenticeship and make the job of LDN Group easier. Good progress has been made but it is clear that more needs to be done, and quicker.

Employer-led apprenticeship frameworks in specific industries are coming into force in 2017 – setting apprenticeship standards in certain key sectors. But as Bozzoli notes, some standards were written as far back as 2014 and will therefore be well out of date by the time they are implemented. Speeding up the process of deregulating what training providers can deliver is also a necessary part of making progress.

“The introduction of employer-led apprenticeships feels like a half measure to me. It’s going to happen but there are already problems with it. They’ve changed the way candidates are going to be assessed, which means a lot of extra bureaucracy. They’ve also changed the way the scheme is going to be funded. There are still a lot of questions to be answered. “

There have been some upsides to government policy, however, that have helped improve the outlook for young apprentices and apprenticeships in recent years. The apprenticeship levy, for example, gets larger companies to consider apprenticeships, starting a dialogue with big business.

But all in all, for Bozzoli, the government’s lack of direction is endemic and is holding the sector back. The single biggest change that organisations like LDN Group would like to see made to the current framework is a cultural shift in the way apprenticeships are considered: in terms of occupational success rather than academic achievement.

In the meantime, Bozzoli will continue his vital work in the apprenticeships space – connecting the capital’s employers with the young apprentices who’ll most benefit from this vital initiative.

If you’ve been inspired by Bozzoli and LDN Group’s story, discover how accidental intrapreneurship lead to a new business which is shaking up an industry.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.