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The rise of hospitality apprenticeships in the UK

How the apprentice levy can support businesses.

Jill Whittaker, FCA, Managing Director, HIT Training

Over 21,000 people undertook hospitality apprenticeships in 2017-2018 and that number is set to grow and grow as employers recognise the value to their businesses of implementing apprenticeship programmes.

For anyone undertaking an apprenticeship, it’s a real job, one where you gain  hands-on experience, get a salary and the opportunity to learn while you earn. Apprentices are like all the other employees, with a contract of employment, benefits and holiday leave.

But the growth of apprenticeship programmes is not without challenges and so we asked Jill Whittaker, Managing Director of HIT Training since 2012 what employers and educators can do to increase opportunities for apprentices in the hospitality sector.

Who are HIT Training?

HIT Training is the leading specialist training and apprenticeship provider for the UK’s hospitality and catering industry.  HIT Training has a very positive vision of what apprenticeships can do: improve individual’s skills and therefore their life chances; make businesses more efficient and boost the economy.

Under Jill’s management HIT is financially profitable, commercially successful and has maintained a high profile in both the hospitality and the work-based learning industries. HIT is a good specialist-training provider, borne out by OFSTED inspections.

Are Employers engaging with Apprenticeship Programmes?

We started by asking Jill about engagement.  ‘The number of apprenticeship programmes is growing as employers recognise the benefits that apprentices bring to hospitality. 

Individuals receive solid, robust, all-encompassing training that delivers transferable skills and, as a result, employers understand that apprentices who have achieved the necessary passes and distinctions know how to do the job they are being recruited for.  Apprenticeships are a way of safeguarding the future of hospitality for the individual, business, and the industry’.

What is the Apprenticeship Levy?

The Apprenticeship Levy has been a controversial issue, not just in the Hospitality Sector, but also across all industries in the UK.   Levy payments can be used to fund apprenticeships right across a business, not just for new entrants. Staff seeking promotion could be eligible for a supervisory or management apprenticeship (level 3), senior management for a higher or degree apprenticeship (levels 4, 5, 6) even a Masters degree equivalent (level 7).

The apprenticeship levy is a payroll tax on UK employers to fund new apprenticeships. The levy is set at 0.5% of a business’s annual pay bill, paid monthly through PAYE.  Pay bills are based on the total amount of earnings subject to Class 1 secondary employers NIC. Although earnings below the secondary threshold are not counted when calculating an employer’s NIC, they are included to the amount of levy the employer needs to pay.

How can Businesses Benefit from the Levy?

Jill continued, ‘It’s important for Levy paying employers to find the right training provider who understands their own unique business; there has to be a great fit.

Your Levy funding contributions will be paid to an approved training and assessment provider, from the government, to deliver the agreed training and assessment to your apprentices’.


The rise in apprenticeship uptake has produced impressive results for the hospitality sector. Over 70% of apprentices complete their apprenticeship and drop out rates have decreased to less than 30% during the twelve months of the programme.   Apprenticeships create a loyalty borne of investment, getting the skills to work anywhere but choosing to stay with employers who invest in them.

Changing the Perception of Apprenticeships

‘There is a fallacy about apprenticeships that they are only for people who might not be suitable or have the qualifications necessary for further education’ continued Jill.  ‘Apprenticeships are for everyone from someone who is already in a job and knows that they want to develop their skills and knowledge, to those who are interested in a career in hospitality and see apprenticeships as a positive way in’.

Reaching Parents and Educators

Recent research by HIT indicates that 50% of parents viewed apprenticeships on an equal footing to other higher and further education options.  However there is an issue as schools are still reticent to promote apprenticeships as an equal option for all students, but this is changing.   Employers who are advocates of apprenticeship programmes are working with their local schools and colleges to promote apprenticeships as a valid and worthwhile career option.

Tailor the Programme to suit your business

Apprenticeships are not a ‘one size fits all’ solution for staff development.  Businesses must develop apprenticeship programmes to suit their business needs.  It’s important too that employers considering an apprenticeship programme speak to staff to find out what motivates them.

For example, apprentice chefs with Lime Wood group learn how to grow the food they prepare in their kitchens, foraging, animal husbandry and in some cases shooting.  It helps them understand seasonality, where ingredients come from and how to create menus using only what they have harvested that day.

There has been some confusion about the 20% off job element, as some employers believe that their apprentices will be out of the business 20% of their working week.  This isn’t the case. Forward-thinking employers are creative in developing individuals to use this 20% to learn more about their business, the sector and the wider workplace.

Working with a Training Provider

Jill commented, ‘Creating an apprenticeship programme is a big commitment financially, in time and resources, and training providers must work in partnership with employers throughout the process.   ‘Launch, review, update, refresh’ – it’s a continuous process to ensure that Apprentices are getting the very best out of their programmes.

Training providers should spend time with every individual intending to undertake an apprenticeship to ensure that they understand what to expect from the programme and what their input will be. Apprenticeships are substantial learning programmes and should not be undertaken lightly’.

By Employers for Employers

Finally, Jill commented, ‘The new apprenticeship standards are designed by employers for employers and as a result we’re now seeing the best apprentices the UK has to offer. They are high achieving and committed to a career in hospitality.

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