23 June 2017

The UK Apprenticeship Levy: How is ODEON Cinemas Group taking advantage?

With the UK’s new Apprenticeship Levy up and running, our Marketing Manager Chris caught up with Anna Farrow, Apprenticeships, Learning and Development Leader at ODEON Cinemas Group to find out how the levy has changed their approach.

Tell us a bit about your role at ODEON Cinemas Group

I lead our learning and development, which we’ve only recently formalised as a role within the business. My role covers all ODEON Cinemas Group support offices and all of our cinemas. I look after our apprenticeships initiative, which has risen up the priority list after the introduction of the government’s apprenticeship levy and support the business with learning and development initiatives.

So let’s talk about apprenticeships then, what have ODEON Cinemas Group historically been doing in terms of apprenticeships?

Previously we had an ad hoc approach to the apprenticeship program. We did have a provider, which we will still use to provide apprenticeships, but the approach back then was very much based on providing this extra training if an individual was interested in it. I think across the 6,000 employees in our business we only had about 30 apprentices, so a very small number.

And what has the apprenticeship levy meant for your business?

Well, we’ve spent a significant amount of time looking at the options available to us, and how we can go about offering these to our people. We’ve got a five-year plan, but this year and next is all about leadership; focusing on our internal audience to offer current colleagues opportunities first. Longer-term of course we’ll be opening it up to attract talent from outside the business, but right now we’re using this levy and the associated money to up-skill our current staff and team.

To do that, we’re offering a level 3 supervisor qualification which is aimed at our guest experience supervisors (GES) within our cinemas who are our most customer-facing colleagues and spend most of their time leading and managing our cinema hosts. These GES’s are usually promoted from a team member role and not really given much formal leadership training, it’s more practical. So this level 3 course will support them with that.

Additionally, we’re offering a level 5 operations manager or department manager qualification for our general managers, assistant managers etc – people who look after departments. Again, the focus here is around leadership, coaching and support. We’re also offering a business management degree through Manchester Metropolitan University, which is a level 6 Chartered Manager Degree apprenticeship.

Spreading this across the entire business, we’re offering some specialist finance and IT apprenticeships, which already offer training, but now we’re ensuring the training matches up with the formalised apprenticeships available.

How will the levy work for you now and in the longer-term?

I think as we spend our levy we’ll be looking at our options over the longer-term. We are looking to invest more money into our levy next year to offer more courses. We’re launching all of our apprenticeship programmes internally now, with applications opening in July to ensure start dates are in line with the academic year of September. This year we’re looking to have 80 apprentices in place.

How are you communicating to your people about the apprenticeship opportunities available?

Various ways. We are cascading it through our intranet, through manager briefings in cinemas and messaging around our head office. We’ve also produced a full learning brochure with Synergy, which goes through what our apprenticeships are and the different courses on offer. This goes out to every cinema and support office. It will also be available on our intranet for colleagues to download and read them in their own time, and we also display information and materials from the individual apprenticeship providers. So for example, if you’re interested in the degree program you pick up a copy and read more about exactly what the programme actually involves, what the modules consist of and that kind of stuff.

And this all forms part of your wider commitment to upskilling your people?

Exactly. That’s how it falls under my role, which is all about learning, and development. So, rather than going spending a vast amount of time and money recruiting a lot of people and training them, we’re taking a step back and investing in people that are already leaders in our business – giving them skills for life. It’s pretty good to get a degree fully paid while you work. The knock-on effect is the commercial benefit to us as our people become more skilled at work.

And how do you retain the ODEON brand within these courses?

Well with most of these courses you can put some of your own content in e.g. using our language and leadership courses in modules. But obviously the apprenticeships are formal courses with certificates from recognised bodies so it’s difficult to make it very ‘ODEON specific’ as we’re not a formal provider of those courses ourselves.

So you said five year plan; first and second year is internal, third year you might open it up?

I think first and second year will be internal. We want to up-skill as many of our existing people as possible. By year three we’re going to target high-potential college leavers – those who want to join a business and start working straight away, but want to opportunity to go through these different leadership level apprenticeships.

They can start with our level 3 and become a team leader and then move to be a general manager, do the foundation degree at level 5 and then go onto the fully-fledged degree. This means that within four years they have all this knowledge, training, a degree and no debt. It’s an exciting time for our business and our people.

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