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Building up the next generation: why businesses have a central role to play

by jcp

By: Karen Handley, Head of Future Careers, Virgin Media O2

We all know that over the past two years, the world of work has changed enormously. From a more flexible approach to office-based roles, to remote consultations with GPs, staying connected while physically apart has helped keep Britain moving.

Covid-accelerated digital transformation has prompted years of change in a short amount of time. Now, businesses have an opportunity to help kick start a similar boost for training and apprenticeships, ensuring people across the UK have the skills they need to launch future-proofed careers.

Investing in our front line

The public sector is a perfect example. The NHS has been at the front line in our fight against the pandemic – and with an estimated shortage of 100,000 staff across the NHS – our future healthcare workers need investment in training now, more than ever. At Virgin Media O2, we’ve been proud to support the NHS during the vaccine rollout – providing vital network connectivity to over 1,600 vaccination centres, alongside tens of thousands of devices and expert tech support from O2 store ‘Gurus’ to help set up IT infrastructure and train staff.

So now, in the wake of this activity – and keen to continue to support front-line workers – we have recently transferred part of O2’s Apprenticeship Levy to Health Education England (HEE)’s NHS apprenticeships scheme.

The Apprenticeship Levy is part of the government’s efforts to increase the number of apprentices in England and to give employers more control over where, and how, money is spent on apprenticeships. It sees businesses with an annual wage bill of more than £3 million pay an apprenticeship levy of 0.5% of their total payroll to fund apprenticeships. It’s a great example of the government encouraging businesses to invest more in apprenticeships, both within their own organisations, or in their supply chain, with a charity or any other employer.

Apprentices: the bright future of the UK’s workforce

By transferring £144,000 to HEE we’ve been able to directly fund six Trainee Nursing Associate (TNA) apprenticeships across seven GP surgeries in Oxfordshire, as well as two Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeships (RNDAs) in Kent. Having seen such positive results, we’d encourage other Apprenticeship-Levy-paying employers who can, to do the same.

Of course, there are opportunities to invest closer to home too. In recent times we’ve accelerated our apprenticeship programme as well as our overall and early careers programme offer, with incredible results. We’ve been working on creating 1,000 apprenticeship roles across Virgin Media O2 since we merged in June last year – achieving a quarter of this commitment in the second half of 2021.

Helping to level the playing field

Of course, there are also ways for businesses to nurture early-in-careers talent for their own organisations. We’ve seen it ourselves, with 150 volunteer ambassadors from Virgin Media O2 promoting STEM careers across schools, colleges and universities. And in 2021, we started working with 1,400 schools to share employment opportunities with their students and support them in matching their own strength and skills to potential apprentice roles, and practice for their applications using recruitment assessment tools.

In a bid to level the playing field and ensure opportunities are as fair as possible, we also offer free situational judgement tests to all schools; this helps students practise the more innovative types of early career-based assessments, which they may not be familiar with. Potential applicants can also use our online Match Me tool to help them understand which Virgin Media apprenticeships their strengths and skills are best suited to. Another way to ensure we’re hiring on potential only is to offer a blind recruitment process, to remove any bias. Virgin Media was one of the first companies to do this.

We’re also proud to offer more than 40 different types of apprentice roles covering education levels 2-7 (from five GCSE’s to masters level). Many of these are STEM based, with our efforts recognised externally: in 2021 Virgin Media’s inclusivity efforts saw us recognised as Digital & Tech Employer of the year at the BAME Apprenticeship Awards, and we have won the Best IT and Telecoms Apprentice employer by Job Crowd four times in a row since 2018.

In an ever-changing world, investment in apprenticeships and training are key to retaining a competitive business advantage, future proofing jobs and keeping great talent.

To find out more about Virgin Media O2’s apprenticeships programme visit: careers.virginmedia.com/future-careers/apprenticeships.

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