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Jon Kennard


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Insight: Apprenticeships vital to build the workforce of the future


Apprenticeships are essential to help build a sustainable workforce and get more people into employment, according to a new report by learndirect and Cranfield School of Management.

‘Nurturing Talent: building the workforce of the future’ outlines how more needs to be done to promote the value of vocational education and the vital role employers should play in this.

Despite concerns over skills shortages in the UK, more than two-thirds of UK firms (70%) surveyed [1] for the report have not taken any steps to address potential skills shortages in the labour market forecast in 10-20 years’ time. Apprenticeships can play a huge part in helping to tackle the issue, but only 7% of business leaders from companies employing apprentices found it easy to find suitable young people for the roles. Despite these challenges, the research, commissioned by learndirect, discovered more than a fifth of firms (21%) employ apprentices, of which 32% said the training schemes were an effective way of addressing shortages of technical skills.

However, the report highlights young people’s lack of basic skills. Almost a third (30%) of the business leaders surveyed said English literacy and language skills among non-graduates aged under 25 was poor, whilst more than a fifth (21%) said their maths abilities were insufficient for employment. The inability of young people to communicate effectively was also cited by a quarter (25%) of business decision makers, whilst 28% said that the general attitude of young people was an issue.

In order to support the government in its drive to reduce youth unemployment, more than half of the business leaders surveyed (54%) said they needed further support to improve the basic English and maths skills of young people.

The difficulties businesses face in finding appropriately skilled young people could be part of the reason why 11,500 fewer apprenticeships were started between August last year and the beginning of 2013, compared with the same period a year before [2].

Deborah Rosado, Director of Proposals and Stakeholder Management at learndirect, who launched the report to the HR Development Conference today, said of the findings:

“Like the government, employers recognise when done well, apprenticeships can equip firms with the skills they desperately need. However, if apprenticeships are to help businesses meet the changing needs of the UK economy, which was an important element of the Richard Review, young people should have the basic skills needed for work.”

Despite the difficulties the research highlights, there is overwhelming support for apprenticeships amongst business leaders, 75% of whom agreed with the government’s focus on the schemes.

More than a third of apprentice-employers (34%) agree they could plan to promote their trainees through their organisation, indicating they believe the training schemes are crucial for their talent pipeline, and 32% believe apprenticeships help with employee retention.

Indeed, the survey shows it is not only traditional industries, such as construction, taking advantage of the traineeships but increasingly white collar professions such as the financial sector (23% of which run apprenticeship schemes).

Dr Emma Parry, Reader in Human Resource Management at Cranfield and the report’s author explained the benefits of apprenticeships to companies:

“Apprenticeships are not just about helping employers to access the skills they need to be successful, although they can certainly do this. The evidence suggests the use of apprenticeships can also lead to improved employee morale, commitment and retention, lower recruitment costs and can also allow an organisation to develop a reputation as a good employer.”


The report comes with four recommendations for businesses and policy makers to help make young people more attractive for employment:

  • The school curriculum should be reviewed to include work-related learning, which will ensure young people are work-ready, leaving the school system with the basic employability skills, behaviours and attitudes needed to thrive in work, including maths, English and ICT
  • There should be a new duty for schools to provide high-quality information, advice and guidance on careers and further education that is impartial and includes the full range of options, including apprenticeships and traineeships
  • Steps need to be taken to improve the status of vocational education and training (VET), which should include a government-led campaign to promote the value of VET to parents, teachers, children and employers. All of this will require a period of stability in the vocational education sector achieved through cross-party consensus
  • Technology should be maximised by extending its use beyond teaching and learning. For example, providing peer-to-peer IT support and mentoring where learners are dispersed. The Ministerial Action Group, set up to look at learning technologies in the further education and skills sector, should identify best practice in the use of technology across industry and make recommendations on how this could be replicated in employment and skills

[1] YouGov poll of 503 senior decision makers in all business sizes. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 22nd March 2013.  The survey was carried out online.


Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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