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 high level of youth unemployment has firmly focused attention on apprenticeships as a critical means of addressing the problem. The benefits of vocational training for both young people and employers was highlighted during National Apprenticeship Week 2014, which ran from 3-7 March. But this celebration of apprenticeships and their contribution to the national economy also provided another opportunity to identify areas where more work needs to be done, Sarah Champion MP writes in a post on the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) blog.
At present the number of NEETs tops one million. In other words, that many young Britons are not in education, employment or training. Apprenticeships have proved a highly viable option for these young people, giving them the opportunity to gain practical skills and work experience and thus pave their way to a rewarding career. This also works to the advantage of employers as they benefit from the enthusiasm and fresh perspective of their young recruits.
However, the fact remains that the government still has its work cut out when it comes to meeting apprenticeship demand, Champion points out. While more apprentice positions are created every year, the number of applications far exceeds that of apprenticeship vacancies. Think tank research has shown there are only 11 apprentice positions for every 1,000 jobs in England. If the UK is to achieve sustained economic growth in the long term, the government must invest seriously in the country’s future talent base and do so without delay. For that reason, Champion supports the BCC call for a focus on youth skills and training in the forthcoming Budget. The organisation has urged Chancellor George Osborne to put apprenticeship investment among his priorities and Champion believes this is the proper course of action to ensure the future prosperity of the UK economy.
The National Apprenticeship Service has expressed its gratitude to all the people and organisations that helped make National Apprenticeship Week 2014 a resounding success. The seventh annual celebration ran under the theme “Great Apprenticeships,” with more than 1,100 events showcasing the benefits of apprenticeships for businesses, individuals and the national economy.
Skills Funding Agency chief executive Barbara Spicer said that NAW 2014 had turned into the most successful one so far. It highlighted the extraordinary achievements of both apprentices and employers and provided inspiration for more people and organisations. In a clear sign that apprenticeships are steadily growing in popularity, NAW 2014 wrapped up with the promise of more than 20,000 new apprentice positions. Compared to the commitments made last year, this represents an increase of over 40%. Even more encouraging is the fact that 47% of these positions were pledged by small and medium-sized enterprises.
Through social networks, Twitter in particular, word of NAW 2014 was spread by a number of very high-profile individuals. The campaign received more than 57,000 mentions on Twitter, getting support from the likes of Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
In a fitting finale for the grand celebration, the last day of NAW 2014 saw the Royal Opera House in London become the stage for the International Apprenticeships Conference. The aim of this event was to discuss the future of apprenticeships and to exchange ideas. Given the increasingly globalised economy, the participants examined trends unfolding on a global scale, with discussions centred on worldwide developments and apprenticeship opportunities created in emerging economies.
National Apprenticeship Week 2014 was a welcome reminder of the tremendous importance of vocational training to businesses, individuals and the economy as a whole. It also highlighted the growing popularity of apprenticeships among companies of all sizes, with employers pledging to create over 20,000 new positions for young people interested in learning on the job and earning money at the same time.
Hundreds of UK firms took the opportunity to unveil plans for apprentice recruitment. Some big companies have committed to creating thousands of new apprentice positions: Lloyds Banking Group, for example, pledged to recruit 5,000 apprentices, while Greene King and Whitbread each announced plans to create 2,000 positions. Other big enterprises making a commitment to apprenticeships included Mitchells & Butlers, Starbucks, EE, Virgin Media and BT. Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that small and medium-sized enterprises are embracing apprenticeships: 47% of the businesses intent on recruiting apprentices are within that sector.
Commenting on the positive news, Business Secretary Vince Cable said that the government was steadily obliterating the “damaging divide” between vocational training and academic learning. Support for apprenticeships has become a top government priority and two million apprenticeships are set to be created over the course of this parliament.
Cable went on to add that the huge success of National Apprenticeship Week 2014 had confirmed the growing importance of apprenticeships for UK business. It is estimated that apprentices are already making a £1.8 billion contribution to the national economy and the new employer commitments will allow thousands of young Britons to benefit from the career opportunities created by vocational training and help UK companies grow in the process, Cable concluded.
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.
According to the EEF study, 60% of UK engineering and manufacturing firms have recruited an apprentice in the past year. In further good news, more than two-thirds plan to take on engineering and manufacturing apprentices in the 12 months ahead. With the majority (75%) typically bringing in trainees aged 16 to 18, it is apparent that apprenticeships have become critical for building the country’s future talent base.
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.
It is encouraging during National Apprenticeship Week to see the results of a new study among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) concerning their apprenticeship plans. According to the research, 20% of SMEs intend to take on at least one apprentice in the 12 months ahead, while 39% plan to make apprenticeships part of their strategy within five years, Real Business reports.
Conducted by the Institute of Commercial Management, the poll also revealed that 29% of SMEs see apprentice take-up as part of their core growth strategy. In a sign that apprenticeships are becoming more popular, nearly 50% of SMEs said they were now more likely to create apprenticeship positions than two years ago. Moreover, 33% stated that they were ready to take on apprentices because employing them had become easier.
Commenting on the research results, Business Secretary Vince Cable said it was great to see the value of apprenticeships being increasingly recognised by employers. Businesses of all sizes have come to regard apprentices as very important and valued members of their staff.
Cable went on to add that he was immensely proud of the work the current government had done in promoting apprenticeships and the resulting surge in apprentice employment. A key part of the government’s strategy is support for SMEs so it is particularly good to see that the grants made available are spurring apprenticeships in this sector. Apprentice recruitment has now come to be considered a vital element of sustainable growth strategies, Cable concluded.
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.
Apprenticeships offer young people the opportunity to make a strong start to their career and vocational qualifications should be given greater emphasis, according to Milton Keynes MP Iain Stewart. For quite a while now, it has been clear that university is not the right choice for all school leavers and they should be provided with information about all the alternatives out there, Stewart said.
The local MP made his comments after touring the Milton Keynes-based National Learning Centre of Volkswagen Group, Business MK reported. The establishment serves as a training base for more than 740 apprentices and prepares VW workers from all over the country. During his visit, Stewart talked to apprentices enrolled in the Advanced Apprenticeship Programme. He was told that 90% on average complete the programme and nearly every successful apprentice gets a job offer from the company.
Stewart said that VW’s apprenticeship programme was an example of what vocational training can offer. Motivated and ambitious young people have too long been led to believe that their only choice is university if they want professional recognition. This is obviously not the case, so young Britons should be familiar with the alternatives. Stewart expressed hope that the promotion of apprenticeships would be given greater focus in the years ahead.
David Sterling, who is in charge of learning services at the VW centre, said that the facility trained more than 20,000 retail staff members every year, apprentices included. The comments made by Stewart come as very welcome recognition for the work done at the centre and the achievements of the apprentices, Sterling added.
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.