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Why earning and learning works for businesses – introducing The 5% Club

The Open University works with more than 2,800 organisations to provide earn and learn opportunities. As a sign of the learning and development it provides its own staff, the OU is a member of The 5% Club, a charity which promotes inspire positive action for increased and accessible workplace learning. We asked Mark Cameron, CEO of The 5% Club to tell us more, and share details of the UK National Employer “Earn & Learn” Awards.

What is The 5% Club, and does it have so much relevance?

The 5% Club is uniquely an employer-led charity founded in 2013, which works with UK employers and key influencers to inspire, educate, and retain a growing body of people into “earn and learn” schemes. The desired outcome being an increase in the number of apprentices, sponsored students, and graduate trainees within the workforce, and that the offered opportunity is accessible to all irrespective of personal characteristics, identity, and circumstance.

The purpose of The Club is “to inspire positive employer action for increased and accessible workplace learning for all”. This is realised through our work with members to increase the employment and career prospects of today’s youth and the wider workforce and equip the UK with the skilled workers it needs to compete globally. Members aspire to having at least 5% of their UK work force in “earn and learn” positions within five years of joining.

In setting up The 5% Club, we wanted to encourage leading firms of all sizes to “invest in a generation” – to put their money where their mouth is and set a clear example for many more employers to follow. We believe that the aim should be to build a much broader way for people to enter the job market or reskill, moving away from the entrenched university focus and creating a world-class vocational system in the UK that is on a par with, if not better than, systems such as that in Germany. The 5% Club believes that employers are best placed to identify the skills that the economy will need in the future and to drive high quality, relevant training which can be the bedrock to a long and fulfilling career.

By joining The 5% Club, employers demonstrate to governments, investors, their customers, employees, wider society, and potential recruits that they are a business committed to developing their workforce and building the skills the UK economy will need to thrive.

Mark Cameron
CEO, The 5% Club

Why is the OU an excellent earn and learn employer and provider?

The OU has a rich heritage of providing workplace education solutions for employers across a range of sectors, which help employees unlock their potential and since 2016, the OU has offered higher and degree apprenticeships to help organisations grow their own talent.

Beyond apprenticeships, the OU offers a wide range of programmes to help employees develop skills for work. These include free learning from OpenLearn, microcredentials and short courses, Higher Technical Qualifications, Vocational Qualifications, and undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications – including the flexible Open Degree.

The OU joined The 5% Club in 2020 and has since then worked closely with The Club on research and events.

How to get involved with The 5% Club, The Employer Audit, the UK Employer Earn and Learn Awards.

The 5% Club offers two levels of membership: Entry level free membership and the enhanced Gold, Silver or Bronze Membership which is awarded on an annual basis through the Employer Audit programme.

Joining The 5% Club at the free entry level is achieved by agreeing to sign the Charter which is a pledge to aspiring to meet the goals of the movement. These voluntary commitments include:

  • Helping the country’s growth agenda and acknowledge the importance of developing our people as both an employer and a social imperative.
  • Helping in addressing youth unemployment and UK national skills shortages.
  • Working towards having a minimum 5% of the UK workforce enrolled on formalised apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate development schemes within five years of joining.
  • Measuring and reporting on our progress annually against the above metric in our Corporate Responsibility section of our Annual Report and Accounts or equivalent document/website.
  • Encouraging other employers to participate in The 5% Club movement.

After joining The 5% Club, members are encouraged to progress towards the enhanced membership through the Employer Audit Scheme. This service – delivered for a small fee – delivers benchmarked research and enhanced acknowledgement of the efforts of those socially responsible employers who deliver increasing provision of accessible workplace learning. The annual scheme opens each spring, with 130 members participating in 2022 – this is about 20% of The 5% Club membership and growing.

The scheme provides participating employers with the following additional benefits: 

  • A Bronze, Silver, or Gold Membership Award;
  • Bespoke Research (delivered in partnership with Highfliers Research) centred on the five themes of: employment; breadth and balance of the “earn and learn” offering; inclusion and social mobility; scheme quality; and plans for future growth;
  • An online Symposium which more fully explores the findings and insights from delivered from the research; And,
  • An Awards Celebratory Event, usually held in the Palace of Westminster in late November/early December. 

Participation in the scheme includes automatic shortlisting and entry into the UK Employers “Earn & Learn” Awards which will be presented to the highest performing employers in each of the 5 areas of the research, as well as a headline “Earn & Learn Employer of the Year”. More detail on the awards is here, with the OU sponsoring the Breadth Award which is presented to the employer offering the greatest breadth and balance across their workplace learning scheme, in terms of the scheme offering and employee participation.

The 5% Club UK National Employer “Earn & Learn” Awards 2022-23 will be presented at a reception at the House of Lords on 30 November 2022.

Find out more about the awards

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