In the limelight: Apprentices

November 17, 2015

The Government is committed to creating 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 but why does it remain a struggle to create and fill apprenticeship roles in the UK, among our young people?

The Hays Global Skills Index 2015, published in September, reporting skills shortages in the UK have become more acute for the fourth consecutive year, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) named the UK in May, this year, has having the biggest skills gap between young people (16-29) who are not in education, employment or training to those in work.

The result has been much talk in the media about how tackle the skills gap among the UK’s young people.

One solution is to encourage more apprenticeships, particularly in the science, manufacturing, engineering and technology sectors.

The Government is committed to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 and recently announced it would take a company’s apprenticeship offering into account when awarding large Government contracts.

An apprenticeship levy from companies has also been proposed. Set to be introduced in 2017, it aims to increase investment in training and apprenticeships.

But despite this push, many young people still don’t deem an apprenticeship as being equal to a university degree, while there is a reticence among businesses, especially SMEs, in recruiting apprentices.

One reason is a perceived image problem of apprenticeships.

For, Ann Watson, chief executive of SEMTA, the Science, Engineering, Manufacturing and Technologies Alliances, this image problem in evident in the class room and among parents.

“Time and again, when talking to bright, talented youngster, we hear tales of academic snobbery – with career advisers actively obstructing them from taking a vocational qualification and a career in industry,” she said.

“Instead, many are being driven into higher education so that schools can simply tick a box and say a pupil has gone to university.

Similarly, research undertaken by SEMTA showed that only 10 per cent of parents surveyed ranked apprenticeships as their preferred qualification for their children over a university degree.

“We need to show parents than an apprenticeship isn’t just a good thing for everyone else’s child but an opportunity for their own child to securing long-term employment with great career paths,” added Ann.

The Government recently announced that apprenticeships were to be given equal legal treatment as degrees. It has also published new ‘industry standards’ which outline skills apprentices in certain sectors are expected to have to meet the needs to the employers, in an attempt to drive up the quality and prestige of apprenticeships.

“If university graduates have their moment in the sun then so should people who undertake apprenticeships,” said Skills Minister Nick Boles.

Evidence does show that companies are beginning to embrace apprenticeships again.

The 5% Club, a business-led network of employers who commit to getting at least five per cent of their workforce on apprenticeships and training school within five years, recently announced its 100th member, Sellafield, which joined other leading employers such as KPMG, Vision Express, CBI and Keir.

In the North East, Nissan, for example, has an industrial cadets scheme that provides an opportunity for 11-16 year olds to experience what manufacturing. The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) also works with members to help create and fill apprenticeship positions in the region. And Generation NE, a collaboration between five councils and the North East LEP, aims to create 2000 new jobs for the region’s young people over the next three years.

But as Mike Matthews, managing director of Nifco UK and president of NECC – who, himself, began his career as an apprentice – maintains that closing the skills gap among the UK’s young people, is the responsibly of all businesses.

“Too often, businesses are relying on others to train young people which they will tap into later,” he said.

“Large businesses do generally understand the need for creating a skills pipeline. There needs to be more emphasis on SME training and development.

“Many smaller company owners believe that taking on an apprentice will generate too much work for them, but schools and colleges will often do a lot of the work for them.

“Apprentices can do the simple tasks which is more cost effective than having a skilled worker do them. It’s how apprentices start and how they become familiar with the job.

“They then move on to more complex tasks and their overall capacity increases.”

Mike concludes: “We, as a nation, owe it to our younger generation to provide them with the opportunity to learn and improve their skills. If you look at India, China and Central European countries, which are hungry for growth, that’s what they’re doing.

“If we’re not careful, our economy could loose out big style.”