Apprenticeships are essential for combating youth unemployment and helping the UK build a strong talent base for the future. The government has initiated a series of reforms to improve the apprenticeship system but priority is being given to solving quality issues and raising standards in sectors with acute skill shortages, for example aerospace, automotive and life sciences. This is definitely a positive development but since the UK economy is predominantly service-based, more attention should be given to improvements in service industries.
This is one of the key recommendations made in a new report from The Work Foundation. In an article for the HR Director website, author Katy Jones outlined the major issues addressed in the policy paper. It welcomes the launch of the Trailblazer pilots as a way to give employers the lead in apprenticeship programme development but also calls for the inclusion of more service industries amongst the Trailblazers. Skill shortages may not be as acute in health and social care, business administration and customer service but these are sectors providing the largest number of employment and apprenticeship opportunities to young Britons.
As Jones pointed out, the service sector is the one typically fighting the hardest battle with issues related to apprenticeship quality, educational content and duration. This presents a significant problem because the UK economy is driven by services: the sector provides 85% of UK jobs and is the first destination for most young people entering the labour market. Moreover, the service sector creates the largest number of apprenticeship positions: eight of the top ten industries by apprentice recruitment in 2011/2012 were service industries, with business administration and customer service among them. It is therefore very important to raise apprenticeship standards in the sector, Jones noted.
The UK government is betting on a string of reforms to improve the apprenticeship system. But according to Lord Adonis, who served as education minister between 2005 and 2008, the UK needs a “revolution” in apprenticeships, which should include a specific focus on youth apprenticeships and bring about a significant increase both in apprenticeship quality and quantity, the Huffington Post reported.
Lord Adonis made these remarks during a skills debate taking part within the annual conference of the British Chambers of Commerce. Addressing his audience, the former Labour government minister described the number of apprenticeships that are available only for up to 12 months as “unacceptable”. He went on to declare that the system clearly needs a fundamental overhaul, especially in the area of youth apprenticeships. It is not enough to make incremental improvements in quality and quantity: a step change is required, he insisted.
According to Lord Adonis, the government should work alongside schools and employers to address an issue of particular importance, namely the quality of career advice received by students. It definitely leaves a lot to be desired and teachers are generally unable to provide proper guidance on apprenticeships and vocational training. That issue will not be resolved without prompt action and Lord Adonis advocates the introduction of “senior” people whose main responsibility will be maintaining contact with local employers and helping young people secure apprentice positions. UK schools should have people with a keen understanding of the local employment landscape and employers, encouraging the latter to create more apprenticeship opportunities for local youngsters and providing advice to young people, Lord Adonis said.
Just like any other sector, logistics needs to ensure it has the necessary talent to enable future growth. While logistics sector operators acknowledge the importance of employee training and development, many among them fail to achieve the desired results for one reason or another. Recent research conducted by Skills for Logistics has highlighted the need for greater focus on the adequate provision of information relating to staff training and skills development in the logistics sector.
As the organisation established, 36% of sector employers harboured doubts about the current situation, expressing the belief that the currently available training programmes and qualifications did not adequately reflect the skill needs of the logistics sector. Meanwhile, 10% of the companies that had not partnered with a training provider attributed this to their lack of knowledge on the matter.
Skills for Logistics has the responsibility to provide information and tools promoting workforce development. The Sector Skills Council for the UK’s logistics industry is also in charge of providing advice on training options and solutions. It conducts its work in partnership with employers, recruiters and training providers, seeking to bring to light all the opportunities for skills development.
One of the ways in which Skills for Logistics demonstrates its commitment to the staff training cause is through its round table events. A new discussion is scheduled to take place next week, on 8 April, bringing together industry and training representatives for an exchange of views on the skills and training challenges facing the sector.
The government is still is trying to find a way of funding apprenticeships that would receive unanimous support from all stakeholders. Its latest consultation includes proposals for a so-called Apprenticeship Credit, which involves direct fund transfer to employers through online bank accounts. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) sees employer choice in this matter as essential for boosting apprenticeship uptake. Moreover, the organisation believes that driving engagement among employers should be at the heart of any reforms.
This is according to AELP chief executive Stewart Segal, who shared his views in an article for FE News. As Segal points out, the government should focus on improving perceptions and understanding of the apprenticeship system to spur uptake by both employers and young people entering the workforce. There are a number of measures the government can take to achieve these goals.
For starters, understanding would improve significantly if everyone received better career advice and guidance, Segal notes. The AELP also sees the need for a support programme designed to help young people who fail during the apprenticeship application process.
Since employers are a critical link in the apprenticeship chain, the government should make sure the system works in their favour. This could be achieved through a number of actions, among them simpler and more transparent funding rules. Employers should also be able to choose whether they go for a direct contract or partner with a training provider. And it is essential to make it clear to employers that they are free to choose a provider at any stage of the programme, Segal said.
The start of National Apprenticeship Week 2014 was marked by the release of several research reports highlighting the importance of apprenticeships and their growing popularity among employers. One set of findings came from the UK manufacturers’ association EEF, which has found that local manufacturing and engineering companies are increasingly depending on apprentices to tackle the skills shortage problem, Automation magazine reports.
Commenting on the findings, EEF apprentice and skills director Peter Winebloom said it was great to see that UK engineering and manufacturing firms are actively recruiting apprentices. It is even more encouraging that this practice is growing in popularity. The looming skills gap is a massive challenge for the sector and apprenticeships can help tackle that problem. Moreover, unless the UK has a sufficient supply of engineering and manufacturing talent it will not be able to realise its economic growth potential.
But apprenticeships are not just a means of injecting fresh blood into the sector, Winebloom added. We should not forget their importance for the young people who choose that road: for them, apprenticeships represent the launch pad to professional development and career growth, he pointed out.
Apprenticeships are finally getting the attention they deserve but the road ahead remains littered with obstacles. Through research reports and expert analyses, we are constantly reminded how important apprenticeships are for ensuring the UK’s talent supply and how they benefit all parties involved. However, the best source of information is apprentices themselves and the companies that employ them. For its Apprentice Of The Week series, the Huffington Post met recently with a young woman in training and got to hear her thoughts on the biggest myths surrounding apprenticeships and her advice for school leavers, among other things.
Georgia Cosma is doing an NVQ Level 4 apprenticeship in project management at Neopost. Talking about some of the persistent myths clinging to apprenticeships, she pointed out that many people remained unaware of how greatly opportunities have expanded. Nowadays, vocational training is no longer confined to manual specialities such as carpentry and building. Young people can now start with an apprenticeship to build fantastic careers in virtually every industry. There is also a widespread misconception about apprentice pay. While the nationally applicable minimum is quite low, it is very rare for employers to pay their apprentices that amount. Most would start an apprentice on the pay scheme for new employees and some actually pay more because they are putting apprentices through graduate programmes.
Georgia is a keen advocate of apprenticeships and advises young people to “go for it.” Some may still be struggling to work out what they want to do and will therefore be at a loss where to start. According to Georgia, business administration or customer service would be a good idea in such cases. An apprenticeship in one of these areas will give trainees a good grasp of all business basics and guide their choice going forward, she said.
The shrinking pool of UK engineering talent has been a common topic in media publications recently. As the economy and labour market improve, the shortage is set to become even more keenly felt. The recently published annual Confidence Index from specialist recruiter Matchtech highlights the need for a more concerted industry effort to make the engineering profession more attractive for young people. While apprenticeships are making a solid contribution to solving the problem, sector players feel that young people do not get sufficient encouragement to pursue an engineering career.
The survey conducted by Matchtech for its annual report showed that 76% of UK engineers believe the government is not doing enough to make the profession desirable for young people. It is also quite worrying to note that 63% see the UK losing its standing as a global engineering leader in the future. Moreover, 58% of UK engineers would consider relocating abroad, which does not bode well for the local talent pool, Matchtech managing director Keith Lewis pointed out in an article for E&T Magazine.
These figures clearly show the urgent need to act, Lewis commented. Apprenticeships offer a way out and they have had a very positive impact. According to research by the Industry Apprentice Council, 98.5% of apprentices are “overwhelmingly pleased” with their decision to pursue that route. Nevertheless, under 25% received encouragement from their school and this is one area where more work needs to be done.
Besides joining the effort to promote apprenticeships through schools, the UK engineering sector should capitalise on its successes to raise its profile among youngsters, Lewis said. Through highlighting the achievements of individual “industry heroes,” it can restore pride among their peers and provide inspiration for young Britons, he added.
The latest vacancy data published by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) shows that apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular among both employers and young people. The report also reveals that female candidates have been steadily growing in number over the past couple of years.
During the August-October 2013 period, which corresponds to the first quarter of the 2013/2014 academic year, the Apprenticeship Index showed a 24% year-on-year jump in online apprenticeship vacancies. This means that their number went up from 30,230 in the corresponding quarter of 2012 to 37,410. However, the number of applications surged by 43% to 461,530, as a result of which the government is calling on employers to address the demand by creating more apprenticeship positions.
During the period under report, online applications from female candidates reached 216,100, which amounts to an increase of 55% on the year. This trend has helped narrow the gender gap: 47% of apprenticeship applications submitted in 2013 came from female candidates compared to 43% in the preceding year.
The biggest overall increase in vacancies was recorded for Higher Apprenticeships, where the number shot up by 41% year-on-year. The respective growth rates for Advanced Apprenticeship and Intermediate Apprenticeship vacancies were 32% and 19%. The data analysis by region showed that apprenticeship vacancies registered the biggest increase in Yorkshire and The Humber and in the South East – 38%. The East Midlands came second with an increase of 37% and the South West ranked third with 29%.
As for growth in apprenticeship applications, the North East topped the rankings with a 60% surge, which took the number to 33,430. Yorkshire and The Humber and the South West came next with 59% and 58% respectively. Competition was at its strongest in London and the North East, where 18 candidates on average vied for each advertised position.
Youth unemployment has become a serious problem for the UK and it may get even worse now that the job market is fully open to Eastern European migrants. The only way to help young Britons become competitive in the battle for jobs is to ensure that they get high-quality training or are provided with ample apprenticeship opportunities, according to entrepreneur Will Davies.
Davies, head of property maintenance firm Aspect, believes that the government and employers must intensify their efforts to address the problem of youth unemployment. Over a fifth of young Britons under the age of 24 are out of work or not in any training at the moment. This has serious implications for the job prospects of local youngsters because many Eastern Europeans arrive in the country with an apprenticeship on their CV, thus securing an edge over untrained locals, Davies told EN magazine.
The key to making young Britons competitive is betting on apprenticeships and training programmes, the entrepreneur went on to say. Migration is good for the economy of any country but it also raises the bar for local job applicants. Eastern Europeans have built a reputation for their work ethic and this has made its impact on the UK labour force by spurring local workers to improve so that they can compete for jobs. However, UK employers need to do their bit to ensure that local youngsters get access to more apprenticeship and training opportunities. This is the only way they can remain competitive in the job battle with more skilled and experienced migrant workers, Davis concluded.
Commenting on the news a spokesman for Apprenticeship training provider ATG Training pointed to the current opportunities that exist on www.atgapprenticeships.com and the National Apprenticeship Service.
If an apprenticeship were available, 54% of English youngsters would take that road, new research from ICM has revealed. An apprenticeship is also a desired option for 56% of young people studying at university and 66% of those already in a job but getting no training, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) reports on its website.
The ICM findings follow the results of a business study that showed the great value employers place on apprenticeships. According to that research, apprentices are considered 15% more employable compared to young people holding other qualifications, including university degrees.
Commenting on the ICM study, NAS chief executive David Way said that a growing number of school leavers were putting an apprenticeship on the top of their options list. They realise that it is a great way to combine learning with earning and get a strong start on their career journey. On A-Level results day in 2012, apprenticeship applications hit an all-time high and there are as many as 17,000 vacancies advertised online at any time. The NAS expects this summer to set a new record for the number of apprenticeship applications, Way added.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock noted that apprenticeships were quickly establishing themselves as the norm for school leavers who want to earn while they learn and establish a career, with more school leavers attracted to the opportunity to train on the job and earn money at the same time. The government has put apprenticeships high on its agenda and sees them as crucial to addressing the youth unemployment problem while building the country’s future talent base. Over 40 new Higher Apprenticeships will be introduced this year, giving young people the chance to pursue a career in sectors ranging from space engineering to law, Hancock said.