For all the attention apprenticeships have been enjoying in recent years, many people continue to regard them as something less academically inclined youngsters turn to. According to Suzie Webb, director of education at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), this misconception should be addressed by all stakeholders, most notably the government, training providers and educational institutions. Young Britons need to be given a clear message that there are many reasons to consider an apprenticeship and academic aptitude has nothing to do with it, Webb writes in an article for the Huffington Post.
It has become clear that a university degree rarely prepares young people for handling the realities of everyday work. With apprenticeships, learners accumulate invaluable first-hand knowledge of their chosen industry, which in turn helps them build confidence and set their professional sights higher, Webb says. Another great thing is that apprenticeships have been embraced by virtually all industries and the variety of roles on offer is impressive. Young people can train for less demanding positions and gradually build on that or opt for a more challenging role. It also needs to be stressed that apprentices are highly valued by employers for their practical skills and most trainees become permanent members of staff at the company that recruited them, Webb adds.
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.
At the start of this week, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) announced the launch of a programme designed to improve apprenticeship delivery. Commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation, the Apprenticeship Staff Support Programme (ASSP) will provide £1.5 million in funding to projects that can improve apprenticeship outcomes for both employers and trainees.
Phase One of the programme is already under way and organisations can submit their bids, applying either alone or as part of a consortium, NIACE said. Priority will be given to projects that promote employer involvement in apprenticeship delivery and/or focus on further improvement in curriculum design, teaching, learning and assessment.
The plan is to choose eight to 24 projects in the first phase and distribute up to £717,000 of the total funding pot. If a project turns out to be particularly successful, it will be considered for expansion during Phase Two of the ASSP, which will begin later in the year.
NIACE section director Fiona Aldridge said that apprenticeships had amply demonstrated their importance for the development of vital skills and the provision of support for people to enter work. NIACE is working alongside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to promote further improvement in apprenticeship quality and ensure fair access for every applicant. The launch of the ASSP is the latest step in that direction and a particularly important one in light of current apprenticeship reforms. The programme will advance efforts to tackle skill shortages through high-quality apprenticeships that cater to the needs of all stakeholders, Aldridge added.
The biggest names in the corporate world have long relied on apprenticeships, with most top engineering and manufacturing companies running apprenticeship programmes. Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, BMW, British Airways, Network Rail – these are just a few examples of corporate heavyweights swearing by apprenticeships. The message has reached the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector but more of its representatives should embrace apprenticeships, making the most of government incentives to nurture talent and drive growth, according to Gary David Smith.
In an article for the Training Journal, the IT entrepreneur points out that this is a great time for SMEs to recruit apprentices. In the latest sign of its commitment to the apprenticeship cause, the government recently announced an extra support package: the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) scheme will receive a further £170 million and another £20 million will be allocated for support of degree-level and post-graduate apprenticeships. This funding, specifically targeted at the SME sector, is expected to help create 100,000 new apprenticeships. The AGE scheme contributed to the creation of 49,300 new apprenticeships between February 2012 and October 2013, with another 15,800 in the planning stage.
According to Smith, the government’s financial incentives are more than welcome but it is also crucial to deliver properly designed apprenticeships. This means that skills training programmes must aim for “the right balance between learning and doing,” as Smith puts it. He also believes that the government should expand the AGE scheme in a way that makes it possible for SMEs to engage with young people while they are still in full-time education.
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.
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.
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.
Around 160 young people will be selected to start an apprenticeship programme at BMW Group’s UK operations this year, the company has announced.
The new recruits will join the 400 that have already started their training at the company. This year’s apprenticeship programme is set to include 49 young people that will join the MINI manufacturing plants, as the company plans to ramp up production before the new model is revealed. A further 110 apprentices will be recruited in BMW and MINI dealer networks across the UK.
The MINI plant in Oxford is ready to welcome 31 young people who are willing to receive training in various positions, including engineering, IT, logistics and finance, starting in August. The Swindon plant will accept ten more apprentices, while the Hams Hall engine plant has opened eight positions. The full training course takes between three and four years, the company explained.
Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock welcomed the news, commenting that it is always great when a major company like BMW demonstrates that it supports young people and their professional development. The BMW apprenticeship programme is an excellent opportunity for any young person with an interest in the automotive industry to gain experience and maybe start a career in the sector, he added. Hancock also stated that he would like to see apprenticeship programmes becoming part of the norm for young people and that the number of positions opened at various businesses across industries shows that this is becoming a reality.
Commenting on the announcement, a spokesperson for ATG Training said that the Oxford City Learning Careers Fest 2014 would be taking place at the BMW Mini plant next week on 21st and 22nd January. Many different Apprenticeship routes will be available for young people, teachers, and visitors to review.
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.