Mike Thompson is responsible for the apprenticeship programme at Barclays and also helps to create training programmes for young people starting out in their careers. Here he talks to HRreview about why we should be encouraging more young people to do apprenticeships.

It is widely accepted that we are facing a major skills gap in the UK jobs market. The government has suggested that, based on current employer plans, we will need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next ten years, but only seven million young people will leave school and college in that time.

This gap makes it more important than ever that we ensure we are properly preparing school leavers for the workplace and equipping them with the skills needed to thrive in the future economy and world of work. We must recognise that not all of life’s lessons can be learnt in a classroom, and that work experience and learning on the job is incredibly valuable – both to young people and their future employers.

Going to university and gaining a degree remains a brilliant choice for some – but many young people don’t recognise the benefits alternative routes such as apprenticeships can offer and still see it as a back-up option, despite the considerable cost of a university degree.

In fact, research published by Barclays earlier this year found that 61 per cent of young people in the UK applied to university on ‘autopilot’ without considering any other options and more than half made the assumption that university is the only route to a good job, despite research showing that apprentices can earn up to 270 per cent more than graduates across their lifetime in some sectors.

These findings make it more important than ever to communicate that an apprenticeship can be an excellent alternate route to acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. It is simply no longer true that a university degree is the only route to a successful career.

Whether it is finance and management or customer service and hospitality, many employers are actively pursuing apprentices. These companies recognise that apprenticeships schemes can create loyal and sustainable talent within their organisations as well as giving them the chance to target untapped candidate markets, such as NEET and disability, to enrich the diversity of their teams.

I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of apprenticeships to young people and businesses alike, and know that more needs to be done to ease this stigma and increase take up. If this can be done, the benefits to the economy and individual businesses will be vast.

At Barclays, an apprenticeship is not just an interim assignment; we offer a permanent role and career pathway. The on the job experience apprentices can gain is invaluable and will put them in good stead in the job market, equipping them with skills that cross sector and industry. After finishing an apprenticeship, the majority will stay in employment, more than half with the same employer; a level of security many of their peers can’t boast.

In recognition of the benefits of apprenticeships to both employer and employee, the Government last year announced the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, which will be payable by organisations with a pay roll of over £3 million. This is in support of its policy objective to improve the supply of vocational skills, and specifically to see three million apprenticeship starts in England by 2020. This is an important step in finally giving proper recognition to apprenticeships in the UK.

The relatively recent introduction of Degree Apprenticeships is also a fantastic option for those who still want to achieve a degree but want experience of the world of work. These apprenticeships allow participants to learn, earn, and get a degree or equivalent qualification, all in just three to four years – and without the debt associated with tuition fees.

Barclays’ Degree Apprenticeships were specifically designed to spot those with potential – and develop their career. Degree Apprentices receive 100% funding, along with a competitive salary and benefits. Uptake is increasing with the ever-rising financial demands of higher education and are playing a large part in helping reposition apprenticeships for parents, who still generally think of apprenticeships as plumbers and electricians rather than white collar jobs.

We developed our Degree Apprenticeships for several reasons but a core purpose was to foster progression amongst apprentices in terms of salary and career. Whilst still early days, evidence suggests that we are succeeding against both goals with a number of apprentices already moving onto our degree programme and progressing to management positions and more senior roles having joined Barclays with limited to no qualifications. Having an apprenticeship programme provides the opportunity to create pathways for all and, in doing so, help build more diverse organisations and tackle societal issues. I urge other businesses to do the same.

Businesses need to realise the great benefits that apprenticeships can bring, both for the employer and the employee. We’ve seen this at Barclays, and I am very positive for the future with the launch of Degree Apprenticeships and the introduction of the Levy in the Spring. May 2017 be the year we see finally apprenticeships on a level footing with university and other career options – it’s certainly long overdue.