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James Hammill

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Why employers need apprenticeships

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James Hammill, head of apprenticeships and vocational training at training and education provider Kaplan, discusses how employers can do more to support young people through apprenticeships, whilst benefitting their bottom line at the same time.
 

The UCAS application deadline passed in January and already we know that applications are up by 5% on last year's figures. Although the rate of applications has slowed compared to the earlier indications in December, the increase from 2010 could still leave many keen and enthusiastic students without a place in higher education – increasing youth unemployment figures further.
Many will point to the imminent rise in tuition fees for the associated rise in applications this year, but concerns about unemployment and a highly competitive job market is also encouraging anxious young people to secure a career route for the future. Application statistics also show that vocational courses are proving more popular than even before. I ask myself, are employers responding to these trends, by offering their own opportunities for training and routes into work? Are employers and candidates aware of the alternatives, such as apprenticeships? Can we all work together to demonstrate that apprenticeships offer real benefits for young people and the employers who recruit them? Do employers realise the funding available to help them support apprentices?
Apprenticeships are certainly popular across a variety of sectors and different size businesses already. From customer service apprenticeships to business administration – we work with a range of employers to provide them with apprenticeship programmes – but could more be done?
 
"Although we are in challenging times, businesses are still recruiting staff and apprenticeships can provide a cost-effective way of training up new recruits to meet the needs of any organisation."
Many employers I speak to are yet to fully appreciate the benefits apprentices can bring to their business. Although we are in challenging times, businesses are still recruiting staff and apprenticeships can provide a cost-effective way of training up new recruits to meet the needs of any organisation. Time and time again, I speak to employers who are blown away by the enthusiasm, dedication and willingness to achieve of our apprentices they employ. I'm sure this is a sentiment that's mirrored by thousands of employers across the UK.
Apprentices, like any new starters, do require a tailored training programme to get them up to speed with the particular procedures and set-up of each workplace. However, it soon becomes very apparent to their employers, that apprentices are enthusiastic and loyal staff, who are dedicated to achieving good results and high standards. They make a real difference to the organisations that employ them. 
The reason for this success is the way apprenticeships are put together, combining theory and work experience, tailored to a particular candidate and company. Recent research by the National Apprenticeship Service (conducted by Populus) showed that employing apprentices is good for business, with 81% of employers agreeing that Apprentices make their workplace more productive and 82% believing that apprentices provide the skilled workers we need for the future. In addition, apprentices bring softer attributes such as innovation, creativity and fresh ideas.
Many businesses take on graduates as a matter of course, but research from recruitment specialists High Fliers earlier this year showed that unless graduates spend time on work experience placements during their studies, they have little or no chance of landing a job with leading recruiters. Apprenticeships provide candidates with the work-ready skills that employers are calling for and after three years, a candidate who has completed an apprenticeship will not only have a qualification, but the on the job experience too.
Apprenticeships will not replace degrees, and apprentices will never replace graduates, but there is room for both in many workplaces up and down the country. It's important that we, as training providers, as well as employers and educational providers recognise the equal value of both too.
So, can UK businesses do more in the way of supporting the next generation? Quite possibly, yes. This does not have to be purely for altruistic reasons, but instead be about how young people can help businesses to solve skills shortages, inject new energy and develop creative ideas.
 
"Apprenticeships will not replace degrees, and apprentices will never replace graduates, but there is room for both in many workplaces up and down the country."
It's always challenging for businesses to embark on a new recruitment or training programme, and recruiting your first apprentice may appear daunting. But, training providers can assist any business with this process and there is government funding available for apprentices to carry out a recognised qualification, depending on their age. All of which eases the burden and supports businesses along the way.
I would encourage any business, however small or large, to think of the year ahead as an opportunity and offer young people the chance to gain essential work-based skills. Take a chance and find out more about what apprentices can offer you and bring to your business. By offering internships, work experience or apprenticeships, businesses across the UK can help young people, whilst helping their own business be more successful in 2011 and beyond.
James Hammill is head of apprenticeships and vocational training at Kaplan, one of the world's leading providers of lifelong education and training. Programmes include apprenticeships, vocational training, training for professional qualifications, online learning and degree programmes. To find out more visit www.kaplanvocational.co.uk

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