Apprentices WeekApprenticeships have been a big topic this year. In April a new Apprenticeship Levy came into force, designed to help achieve a target of three million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020, which the government has committed to and believes will help to boost productivity. In July, trailblazer apprenticeships were introduced to many industries, designed by employers to ensure that schemes offer the greatest benefit for the company and worker. Recently however, it has been revealed that the number of apprenticeship starts has actually fallen by 61 per cent over the past few months. Many employers – especially those not responsible for paying the levy – are unaware of the benefits the levy offers. High-quality apprenticeships can produce highly skilled staff, who have exactly the right skills and experience that are tailored to meet an organisation’s needs. Apprenticeships can do much for social mobility as well as helping to accelerate career decisions – both for school leavers and older people looking to change careers. However, there are several barriers individuals and employers may face with apprenticeship schemes.

How are more companies going to engage with apprenticeships for the benefit of their own organisation and for social mobility in the UK? Here are a few suggestions generated through discussions we have had with other organisations who are similarly looking to promote the apprenticeship cause:

Ensure all apprenticeship schemes deliver work-ready skills which employers are well aware of

The view that an individual will remain in the same job for life seems outdated in the 21st century. It’s not uncommon for people to have four or five different careers in their lifetimes, especially with life expectancy and the retirement age rising. Therefore it is vital that apprenticeships deliver transferrable soft skills, which work across all industries, especially given that apprenticeships are meant to appeal to all ages. In addition, it’s important that employers are made aware of the skills that apprentices are being trained on, so that they know they can trust that their apprentices have learned the skills and behaviours to succeed in the workplace. Ultimately, it’s the employability of the apprentice that matters – not the apprenticeship qualification alone.

Improve the scope of the apprenticeship levy to recognise skills

There is a view that smaller businesses are going to prove critical for helping the apprenticeship targets be met – but in reality, three-quarters of the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses are one man bands, who are therefore unlikely to be in a position to, or need to take on anyone else at this time. For those larger firms that might, the funds that they receive from the levy should be allowed to be spent on training for high quality traineeships and upskilling existing staff.

This extension of the levy – which should therefore be renamed the Apprenticeship and Skills levy – would make it more attractive to be used by SMEs (small and medium enterprises), helping them see the levy as useful in helping to improve the skills of their workforce and therefore ensuring they consider implementing or accelerating apprenticeship schemes.

Re-develop careers advice in schools

Careers advice for those who will soon be leaving school can still be heavily biased towards universities. Careers advice officers are in short supply with schools struggling to fund such a service, and in any case, many students will most likely have a favourite teacher who will actually provide their greatest source of advice. Once more teachers have come through the new teaching

How to remove the barriers companies face to hiring apprentices apprenticeship, more should hopefully be encouraging their own students down apprenticeship paths. Another measure which will help to raise awareness around the wider scope of opportunities that exist would be to create an integrated portal which brings together the UCAS, the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and other non-academic websites under a single managed service to ensure equal availability of information for all routes to employment. This would also to help increase parity between apprenticeships and university, and mean that employers can reach out directly to potential apprentices seeking to get onto the career pathway of their choice.

It is clear that more needs to be done to help organisations of all sizes become further engaged with taking on apprentices. Apprentices who undertake high-quality apprenticeship schemes that fully prepare them for the workplace can be every bit as likely as university graduates to be the business leaders and managers of the future. These recommendations hopefully highlight ways to make apprenticeship schemes more attractive to individuals and apprentices, help improve the apprenticeship starts figures and help create the high-quality apprenticeships Britain needs to ensure it has the skills to move into what is an uncertain future.