Apprenticeships as a source of growth

Talk of talent shortages and retaining people is widespread. Apprenticeships are less talked about, but may offer a real solution to attracting the best people.

Talent management is one way Inflexion works with its portfolio to accelerate growth, and a number of companies are finding apprenticeships to be a great way to create a robust and more diverse talent pipeline. The latest HR Exchange brought the portfolio together to hear about this often overlooked strategy from ANS and Xtrac.

While apprenticeships differ in scope, it’s clear their proponents have one thing in common: passion for their efficacy in bringing up invaluable talent.

A former apprentice himself in the 1970s, Xtrac’s Warren Page speaks with equal parts passion and experience about apprenticeships, which form an integral cog of the talent machine at the employee-owned firm. The manufacturer of high-performance transmissions began to train people in 2003, and its now well-established programme ensures an ongoing succession of incoming talent. “Once one cohort comes out, we’re looking at the next ones coming in,” explains Warren, Apprentice Manager at Xtrac and with the business since 1990.

The impetus for the programme at Xtrac has practical roots. “We realised we were getting older and needed to do something about it.” Indeed in 2017 the firm secured funding from Inflexion to support its growth, including the expansion of a new factory which was opened by former Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018.

Xtrac’s manufacturing requires skills, knowledge and experience and so is well suited to apprenticeships. The programme is typically aimed recent graduates, whether of GCSEs, A-levels or beyond. “It may suit people who were interested in engineering but didn’t ace their GCSEs. The apprenticeship can help them to see engineering from a less abstract and more practical point of view and it can really help people to fly,” Warren enthuses. The programme is not just for external candidates – some internal team members looking to upskill may get involved, for example moving from a level 3 to a level 6 internally. Xtrac’s EPA mapping chart is used to help fit job roles, ensuring all parties are catered for.

Mind the (skills) gap

It’s great for the apprentices, but also for Xtrac. “We’re looking to skills needed for the future as well as job role progression,” Warren says, pointing to hybrid vehicles as a prime example in Xtrac’s core market. Highlighting the value Xtrac places on the programme as a talent pipeline is the breadth and depth of senior-level involvement: its board of directors and senior management are involved, with Xtrac’s own president an apprentice at British airways some time ago – a story he shares with all new apprentices.

A qualified teacher in a high school for seven years, Tom Robinson of ANS is clearly very passionate about teaching people: “At its core it’s about getting amazing talent into the business and bringing people in of all ages.” The cloud hosting provider received minority funding from Inflexion’s Partnership Capital in 2018.

Tom sympathises with the current difficulties in attracting talent, but points out that this is nothing new for tech, where the business operates. It was precisely this challenge that inspired ANS’s apprenticeship programme, according to Tom: “For where we operate in tech there has always been a skills gap and institutions and their graduates were way behind what we needed because curriculums take so long to get up to speed. So apprenticeships allow us to infer the right skills to the right people efficiently.”

Worthy investment

External programmes are not all created equally. “We could further influence the curriculum and truly develop engineers to be ready for the future in the industry.. We realised this and so, with a large number of former teachers, we set ourselves up as a training college,” Tom says. In 2017 ANS became a part of the register of approved training providers. “It was a big investment by the business with a lot of auditing measures, but it paid off because we have the ownership and flexibility to offer and own the training that we need,” Tom recalls. It’s been a massive success, and in 2019 ANS’s programme was rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

“We have a responsibility to ensure everyone is invested in it so apprentices get the right skills, knowledge and behaviours not just to pass the programme but to succeed in a future roll. This works at ANS because there is genuine buy-in from the leadership team.”

The cost of this investment is the time required to get the apprentices up to speed. But it pays for itself according to Tom: “You get loyalty and business acumen from these programmes so it’s been a great payoff in terms of building our talent pipeline with precisely the skills we need. And they can build diversity by smashing the barriers that limit D&I in tech firms. There is also better stickiness for talent brought up through our own academy than sourced externally and that’s very important in a high-turnover industry like tech. We’re building great talent pipelines with great people.”

Warren agrees you get out of it what you put into it: 


380+ employees in UK and US
6-7 apprentices and 7-10 undergrads trained per annum
120 applicants annually undergo six-element aptitude test before undertaking two interviews.



215 apprentices, including 87 trained through ANS academy in the last 10 years
100% pass rate and 79% distinction rate
85% moved into promoted positions