Leveraging talent

Tom Lloyd speaks to Phillip Wilson, chief executive of UCFB, about their unparalleled sports business education platform.

Leveraging talent

In April 2017 the UK government will begin to enforce the Apprenticeships Levy upon all companies with a wage bill in excess of UK£3 million per year. The levy, 0.5 per cent of each organisation’s entire wage output, will be available to claim back for the sole use of employee training, and UCFB, a company that provides unparalleled sports business education from the heart of the industry, believes it could offer a unique opportunity to the sporting world.


One would be challenged to find many major sports organisations in the United Kingdom, be it a rights holder, a league, a team or a federation, with a wage bill that totals less than UK£3 million (US$3.78 million) per year. In fact, across most industries many companies claim wage bills totalling far in excess of that sum.

Those companies, across both sport and beyond, will find themselves accountable from April 2017 to pay a new levy to the government each year, and while many may deride what initially looks like a  ‘new tax’ as an added bill to pay, the scheme looks set to inject a new era of employee training into the sports business market.

The Apprenticeships Levy, as it has been dubbed, was introduced by then-chancellor George Osborne in his 2015 Autumn Statement. It will see all companies with wage bills above UK£3 million (US$3.78 million) pay 0.5 per cent of the bill into a government-held pot. This money is then made available for the companies to immediately claim back, but for the sole use of training apprentices via government-approved apprenticeship training providers. 

The scheme was set up as a result of a worrying productivity crisis within UK business. Before the announcement, figures suggested that wasted time as a result of poor management cost the UK economy around UK£19 billion (US$23.9 billion) per year, while UK productivity output per hour was around 21 per cent less than other G7 nations.

Now, as the levy forces sports businesses to act on apprenticeship schemes, it looks set to bring a breath of fresh air to existing workforces, and ensure that some of the globe’s biggest sports entities are maximising their employees’ skills.

“This will open up some special opportunities to for the sports industry to train their employees further and really grow their skills, potentially in specialist areas where new challenges have emerged, or where future challenges are anticipated,” says Phillip Wilson, chief executive of specialist soccer and sports industries business education provider UCFB.

UCFB is uniquely placed within the industry as one of the only higher education institutions that delivers university degrees in the business of soccer and sport in the UK, and is a global leader in the field. It runs both online and campus-based development programmes, covering key areas of sports business such as law and governance, commercial management and brand engagement, from iconic locations including Wembley Stadium, Burnley FC’s Turf Moor and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

And as the levy draws in, UCFB will be there to offer assistance and tailored programmes to some of sports’ biggest companies on how to best utilise the impending levy, and how to make the most out of each and every employee.

“We see the most significant opportunity for the sports industry in utilising the levy funding to upskill existing members of staff, especially in areas where gaps or underperformance has been identified,” says Wilson.

“This may relate to gaps in existing proficiency or to areas in which future skills requirements have been identified, as the demands of the industry shift, with apprenticeships being used as a strategic tool to meet a fundamental business challenge.

“This really presents sports companies with a unique opportunity to systematically address current and expected future skills.”

Take for example, an employee with a background in FMCG who has just joined a sports organisation. The levy means that the sports organisation now has the funds to offer that employee a unique, tailored training programme introducing them to the sports industry that before they would not have considered, with UCFB providing the training infrastructure.

As Wilson mentions, the levy looks set to usher in a new era of apprenticeship employment, wherein the very definition of the concept has changed. For many, apprenticeships have always been linked to young people, and those who decide against higher education, but according to Wilson, this could be set to evolve.

“This new era of apprenticeships is very different from the traditional perception of learning a practical trade during day-release training at a local college,” he says.

“In this new landscape, with the levy, an apprenticeship is essentially a job with a structured programme of training and/or study, which is applied in the workplace. It’s a whole new means of employment for anyone and can now offer the opportunity to obtain a university degree alongside the many other benefits.”

According to Wilson, the levy will foster greater professionalism within sports, which in some fields, perhaps, is sorely lacking.

“This development has and will, naturally, open up opportunities for more professional roles, roles that would originally require a degree or where the skills required to perform the role to a high standard are at degree-level,” he suggests.

With the levy set to be introduced in a few months, UCFB is looking to position itself as the market-leading voice on the topic. As the changes are implemented, companies will be clamouring around to set up apprenticeship scheme infrastructure, and it is there that UCFB see their place in the market.

“Given our unique and deeply embedded position, dedicated to the delivery of education in the operational and business facets of the sports industry, we have unparalleled in-depth knowledge of the workings of the industry and the demands placed on businesses,” says Wilson.

“Consequently, we are able to support sports organisations looking to maximise their investment via the apprenticeships levy with training designed specifically for them.

“We have been approached by some of the leading sports organisations from across the globe already to offer ‘leadership and management’, ‘digital marketing’ and ‘PR and media’ courses, and with them being designed by the leading companies, they are certain to enhance their existing employees’ skills.

“We work with a number of sports businesses to deliver staff development and, as a direct result of the new apprenticeship landscape, we look forward to supporting the inevitable growth in this area and to seeing the positive direct impact this development has on their businesses over the coming months and years.”

As sports companies embrace the levy’s introduction, UCFB will be there to help. Osborne’s unveiling of the levy carried with it a desire to stimulate a more professional UK workforce, and to help raise standards across the board. It’s a concept that Wilson believes is certainly achievable.

“This really offers companies the opportunity to push their employees to new heights, while also ensuring that they are treated well and want to stay with the business,” he says.

“They will be able to achieve more than they could before, and ability that had laid dormant can emerge, bringing genuine value to the sports business.

“If they don’t use the opportunity, they risk missing out on a hidden pool of talent, with the exact skills needed to help them achieve their long-term aims.

“The levy may seem daunting and confusing, but we can take away the pain and really turn this around into both a long-term and short-term positive experience for companies.”

As Wilson says, the levy could change the industry for the better. It is at the individual company’s behest, however, whether they choose to join in, but with the invaluable assistance of experts UCFB and when the opportunity for growth is so abundant, the levy looks set to revolutionise sports industry professionalism.