Oh, Apprenticeship Levy, where would I be without you? The truth is, without it I’d never have become an Executive MBA candidate studying at Cranfield School of Management. That fact alone makes National Apprenticeship Week resonate more deeply for me this year. Only now do I truly appreciate the significance of how the Apprenticeship Levy has changed my life forever.

So what is the Apprenticeship Levy and how does it work?

If you don’t know what the Apprenticeship Levy is, it’s a tax which compels organisations over a certain size to make monthly contributions to the government, which can subsequently be used to fund educational qualifications and professional development for employees under the banner of apprenticeships. Yet 45% of UK mid-market business are still unaware of what the levy can be used for. It seems a shame not to access developmental opportunities through levy funding. Especially as funding could be used to develop talent, mitigate internal skills gaps and provide a pathway for talent to progress in their careers. 

To be fair, I didn’t know much about it either until Grant Thornton opened my eyes to its true potential. I first heard about the Apprenticeship Levy three years ago in connection with the Executive MBA, which was itself a product of an innovative partnership between Grant Thornton and Cranfield. The Intranet informed me that one of my venerable colleagues, Mandipa (who recently graduated with a well-deserved distinction), had accepted an opportunity to study at Cranfield. I was delighted for her, although following in her footsteps seemed a remote prospect back then. 

Aren't apprenticeships only for young people?

To confuse matters, the word ‘Apprentice’ often conjures up images of a teenager learning carpentry under the guidance of an experienced mentor. Don’t get me wrong, a skilled trade is entirely respectable! However, it made things clearer once my colleagues explained how the Apprenticeship Levy allows for a much broader interpretation (not to mention age range) of what an apprenticeship is – one which is fit for purpose in the 21st century. 

For instance, when Grant Thornton partnered with Cranfield to create the Executive MBA, the firm aligned it with a Level 7 apprenticeship. This meant the MBA was eligible for Apprenticeship Levy funding. So, when this course is complete, not only will I gain an MBA, but I’ll also become an apprentice. Not as the young teenager portrayed elsewhere though! 

The Levy also supports diversity and inclusion

Another plus about the Apprenticeship Levy is that it can open doors for more diverse talent to develop themselves and step up to the next level. As someone from a minority ethnic background, I’m a firm believer in increasing diversity (both in thought and representation) at a senior level. Also, as the first Sustainability professional at Cranfield to take on the Executive MBA, I'm proof that you don't need a financial background or to have worked in a client-facing role. If my example inspires others to create a business case and apply then it would be an honour knowing I helped to make that possible. 

The Levy's a great tool for skills development

Fast forward to today and now I find myself studying on the Executive MBA with the aim of becoming conversant in the language and culture of business professionals. So far, it’s been a humbling experience. In order to step up to a challenge like an MBA, having a hunger to explore the business landscape from a panoramic viewpoint and develop your strategic awareness is vital. There’s so much to take in – strategic operations, marketing, accounting, economics, organisational behaviour and leadership for starters. It’s like trying to learn 22 foreign languages. But rather than being fluent, all you need is enough knowledge to engage others in a high-level conversation and to make informed decisions based upon their expertise. 

Running alongside the academic perspective, is the quality of network you cultivate during your learning journey. You’re assigned a learning team who you work with for two years to deliver assignments and presentations. Through my own team I’ve gained deeper insights into technology, education, pharmaceutical and engineering sectors. Add others in your wider cohort and you realise very quickly there's a rich array of perspectives and disciplines outside of your own waiting to be tapped into and explored.  

Being a reflective type, it’ll take a while for this new knowledge to sink in. However, I’m keen to share what I’ve learned with my colleagues and to actively contribute to the success of my team and the firm. My ultimate ambition is to become an exceptional leader and to bring out the best in others. To operate at that level and become an MBA will need a great deal of effort and a willingness to go beyond my comfort zone. That’s what I signed up for though and I'm mindful that more challenges lie ahead. 

Years down the line, I’d love to look back upon this experience as a defining moment in my lifetime, where I realised my potential as a leader and became a better human being along the way. And if there’s an audience willing to listen, I'd proudly tell them about the time I became an apprentice and gained three letters after my name.