Civil service strengthens its talent pipeline through apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are making inroads in Whitehall as they create an impact in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

The average person might be 50 times more likely to be struck by lightning than win the National Lottery, but somewhere within the corridors of Whitehall, one young charge believes he’s already hit the jackpot.

As part of his apprenticeship at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Piranavan Kaneshamoorthy works on the National Lottery Distribution Fund, reporting on ticket sales income and ensuring payments are made to good causes. It’s a stimulating job that sees the 24-year-old get a real buzz every time he walks into the grand London building.

A decade or so ago, apprentices were a rarity in the civil service. Back then, the institution had a reputation for being somewhat stuffy, with incoming talent most likely to be Oxbridge-educated graduates.

However, since the civil service launched its fast-track apprenticeship scheme in 2013, it’s earned a reputation as being one of the UK’s most progressive employers – three years ago it took on its first intake of apprentice economists. Over 29,000 apprentices have been recruited across the civil service since the scheme started.

Employing youngsters from all walks of life can be a game-changer for boosting the diversity of an organisation, providing a broader range of opinions that can help prevent groupthink. “By boosting the diversity of the team, apprentices really do bring a fresh approach,” says Mark Mawtus, a financial accountant working at DCMS.

There are currently three finance apprentices working at DCMS, with Mark noting that “apprentices are usually taken on as full-time staff”. It chimes with his view that “apprentices build capability in the team and department – they’re a great long-term investment.”

In the short term, however, apprentices can provide benefits for an organisation, not least by employing their tech knowledge in the workplace.

“The pandemic has accelerated a move from paper (or part paper) processes to fully digital ones and accordingly we’ve looked at how we can make our processes more efficient,” says Mark. “Piranavan is an expert with many of the Google apps (Sheets, Docs and Forms) and has taken the lead in designing forms that those responsible for the information can complete, in order to efficiently update our accounting records. He also ensures the quality of the information provided, and the maintenance of controls over the quality of the information provided…”

Apprentices are required to spend 20% of their time in off-the-job training. This is usually conducted a via a training provider, where they are exposed to the latest industry trends and knowledge. When they deploy these freshly-learned skills in the office, the benefits are immediate. Shortly after studying a module in accruals at training providers Babington, Piranavan returned to DCMS and subsequently designed a DCMS journal for accruals.

It’s just one of many ways that Piranavan has impressed colleagues since he joined the department in October 2019. In particular, Mark is awed by Piranavan’s “ability to successfully study for exams with holding down a different job at the same time.”

Piranavan joined DCMS after a frustrating experience studying maths at university, where he felt unable to apply the knowledge he was picking up in books to real-life scenarios. “The course was focused on ethics and theory, but I wasn’t exercising this outside the classroom,” he remembers. Working at DCMS is completely different. “From my very first day, I’ve constantly been learning, but also getting to practice what I’m studying,” says Piranavan.

He’s also part of a steering group for the civil service’s apprenticeship network, a role that sees him plan events plus give guidance to new apprentices.

His eagerness to get involved also highlights the commitment many apprentices apply to their roles. “Once they start a job, apprentices are keen to be seen to be able to finish it, and that is best done by finishing the full period of their apprenticeship,” says Mark.

This loyalty is also underscored by Piranavan’s wish to stay with DCMS once his apprenticeship finishes in spring 2023: he has plans to become a senior financial accountant and manage others.

Mark has no doubt Piranavan can achieve this. “In five years’ time, I’d expect Piranavan to be managing a team of some size, depending upon how well he does with the department or whether we have managed to keep him.”

Mark’s advice to fellow bosses is simple: “Definitely consider apprenticeships. The day-to-day benefits are clear, and if you get the right balance, the apprentices will stay at your organisation long after they finish the scheme.”

Christian Koch is an award-winning journalist/editor who has written for the Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Guardian, Telegraph, The Independent, Q, The Face and Metro. He's also written about business for Accounting Technician, 20 and Director, where he is contributing editor.

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