Apprenticeships finally taking centre stage

This month saw the beginning of the much-discussed Apprenticeship Levy. The government sees this as the a way to create get more young people into skilled work, creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020. Those unsure about the scheme have painted it as an unfair tax on business, but we think a little push is the perfect way to show businesses how valuable working with apprentices can be.

First things first, what’s the situation with the levy?

  • Companies with a payroll of over £3m will have to contribute 0.5% through PAYE.
  • You can claim back the amount you pay in to support apprenticeship schemes.
  • If you’re not eligible for the levy, you can still access government support to take on apprentices.

Why are apprenticeships important for businesses?

A business is only as good as it’s people.

The most exciting place I’ve ever worked (apart from thirdbridge of course!) was extremely diverse. Every staff member came from totally different backgrounds, but we were united in one place by our passion for the cause we were working for. Not only did we benefit from a whole host of different viewpoints, but we were able to appeal to a whole range of stakeholders easily – everyone we spoke to could see themselves reflected in us. It made us all challenge our own attitudes and we all left as more well-rounded, open-minded people.

When a business is full of clones, it makes it difficult for innovation to happen. If every person has experienced the same thing, opportunities to be challenged on your views don’t come up as often. I find that the best ideas come when two opposing views come together but each side is open to adapting their opinion.

Apprenticeships are an opportunity to bring some new life into your business, to allow your staff to develop, and to diversify your workforce.

Why are apprentices important for young people?

Apprenticeships are another way for young people to achieve. Academic pursuits aren’t right for everyone, and often people feel pushed into either going to university or just going straight into a job. The skills and experiences that young people can gain from an apprenticeship ensure that those talented young people who make the decision not to go to university still have the chance to thrive and go on to the careers they want to have.

Why are apprentices important for society?

The training, experience, and resulting employability that comes from apprenticeships will create jobs, grow businesses, and strengthen the economy as a whole. A varied, skilled, and thriving workforce is what will keep the UK as a viable economic power, particularly in the turbulent years we have ahead of us.

How can thirdbridge help?

We can give you access to our wide range of charities and social enterprises. Partnering with organisations that are already engaged with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, will make the whole process much easier, while also helping you to reach your diversity and inclusion goals.

Here’s a few to get you going:

Fair Train




Business perspective

Mike Freely, Managing Director of Octink had this to say:


Octink has had an apprenticeship scheme for over 10 years, ever since we originally became an Investor in People. A desire to develop young people from within the local community is at the heart of why we have such a scheme.

The main challenges for us have historically been in attracting prospective apprentices and undertaking the recruitment process. These days we are aligned with local training specialist Hawk Training in Twickenham who not only help with this need but are integral to the training framework we provide apprentices, and for their employer seminars which have helped us plan for and understand the impact the Levy will have.

The benefits are clear in being able to develop an individual often from a young age into exactly the roles you require as a business. Having those with invaluable experience provide mentoring is also positive for both sides. The financial support traditionally provided through the schemes is also useful.

Diversity is certainly achieved in terms of bringing in younger people into the organisation (and in our case certainly more females into what has traditionally been a male-dominated business) as part of our succession planning strategy.

Apprentice perspective

Tim Evans, now employed as an Apprentice Project Coordinator at Octink after an apprenticeship had this to say:


I decided to join the apprenticeship programme so I could further my education while also being in full-time employment.

Without the apprenticeship, I wouldn’t be at this stage of my career by now. It might have taken years of further education or industry experience.

I’ve learned how to more effectively manage time and priorities regarding workload in a professional environment. I’ve also become more proficient with certain IT functions, such as creating reports and databases.

The best thing about being an apprentice has been completing and experiencing first-hand the work required of a Project Manager, while at the same time learning the wider syllabus for this position through my tutor and course resources.

If you need help putting together an strategy for placing or hosting apprentices, feel free to get in touch on 

Inspirational conversations: Alix Wooding on cross-sector partnerships

This post is part of a series of conversations with people who make doing good look easy, and inspire us in our work. 

The world of doing good is a tricky one to navigate. It can be hard to stay on track when things aren’t working out exactly how you would like. However, the proof is out there! It keeps us inspired and motivated every day.

We wanted to share that with you, so we’ve been speaking to the people that are taking giant leaps for the rest of us to follow.

Our first conversation is with Alix Wooding. Alix is currently Assistant Director of Engagement at Anthony Nolan. Previously, she was Head of Corporate Partnerships at Macmillan Cancer Support, and Alzheimer’s Society.  She has brokered relationships with Boots, npower, Marks & Spencer, Tesco, and KPMG, creating employee engagement, commercial, and integrated partnerships.

If that isn’t an impressive CV, we don’t know what is. Here’s what she had to say to our founder, Rick Benfield, about cross-sector partnerships.

 [RB]: You’ve said before that the word ‘partnership’ is an over-used term when it comes to relationships between companies and charities – what do you mean by this and what, in your view, turns a relationship into a partnership?

It’s a bit contentious but, yes, I actually think that the use of the word ‘partnership’ can be a bit of a red herring and can leave both sides a bit frustrated and disappointed.  Lots of relationships between charities and companies are transactional: we provide a service for our client (staff engagement, PR, volunteering opportunities) and they retain us because we have the skills and expertise to deliver what they want.

Partnership is different because the relationship is more open, honest and complex.  There is value being delivered to both sides. It isn’t just the exchange of services for money.  The focus is generating shared value.

“Great partnerships are built where an exchange of money couldn’t create the value that the partnership brings.”

[RB]: Do you think it is important for companies and charities to work in true partnership?  

Yes, if we’re going to solve the real problems in society that we’re trying to tackle.  But we need to be aware that it is not an easy thing to do.

We ask for money, because we can translate it into solutions for our beneficiaries, but there are lots of ways to create solutions. Great partnerships are built where an exchange of money couldn’t create the value that the partnership brings.

“Companies don’t fully understand the value that charities can bring, and charities can look at companies as just a chequebook.”

[RB]: Do you think the potential benefits of working together (beyond simple, transactional relationships) are really understood by most companies and charities?

No, not yet.  Companies don’t fully understand the value that charities can bring, and charities can look at companies as just a chequebook.

True partnership has to start from a place of understanding the value that you will bring to one another, and building a relationship of trust and respect.

[RB]: What are the barriers to more transformational partnerships forming?

I think there are lots of barriers to more transformational partnerships forming: none of them are insurmountable, but they can derail many well -intentioned conversations.

  • Time: it takes a long time to build real understanding and trust.
  • Clarity: both sides need to be really clear about the value that the partnership will deliver for their stakeholders, and it needs to be important to them.
  • Culture: there can be big differences in organisational culture; only if you’re aiming for something worthwhile will you persevere when it feels like you’re talking different languages.
  • Evidence: there isn’t great recent data or evidence out there of the real value of working in partnership. That can make it tough for both sides to sell: for fundraisers it’s hard to quantify value over cash, and for businesses it can be hard to quantify the value to brand and perception.

Case study: Macmillan and npower

mac and npower

[RB]: Which partnership that you have been involved with are you most proud of?

An exceptional partnership that I was part of at Macmillan is the long-standing one with npower.

[RB]: What were the main objectives of the partnership?

With npower, we wanted to support people with cancer affected by fuel poverty. We set up a fund, the npower Macmillan Fund, to support npower customers with cancer by allowing them to cap energy bills and write off debt.  This ensures they can keep warm without the worry, and focus on getting well rather than on staying warm.  So far we have helped over 3,000 cancer patients save over £3million.

[RB]: What were the benefits for both sides?

Our first thought when developing the programme was to ensure it really delivered value to people with cancer.  We’ve also found that it’s a great programme to gain recognition for the partnership, and have driven awareness and PR campaigns about it.  The awards we’ve won have helped to keep colleagues at both organisations engaged and inspired.

[RB]: What was the hardest thing about the partnership? 

Like any partnership, we’ve had our ups and downs.  We’ve had to work hard to ensure the processes between the two organisations are slick, and we’ve had to keep the conversation going to ensure the fund has evolved to continue to meet the needs of people with cancer.

“Be clear about the problem you’re trying to solve, and the outcome that you want, but stay open about how you will get there.”

[RB]: Finally, what advice would you give to anyone about to embark on a new cross-sector partnership?

  • Be clear about the problem you’re trying to solve, and the outcome that you want, but stay open about how you will get there.  If you’re too fixed, you’re not in a partnership mindset, because you’ve already discounted potential value that your partner could bring.
  • Engage people across both organisations – a partnership is between two organisations, not two people.
  • Give it time, partnerships are not quick to form.
  • There will be benefits to both sides, but both sides have to put in enough effort.
  • Make sure it’s for something you really want: all partnerships take time, effort and energy, so it should be worthwhile.

We hope Alix’s words have inspired you. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us on 

Click here to read more about the npower and Macmillan partnership.