Looking to the future

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Written by Gemma Carter on 11 February 2022 in Features
Features

As National Apprenticeship Week 2022 draws to a close this weekend, industry leaders give their view of the value of apprenticeships 

This year marks the 15th annual week-long celebration of apprenticeships, designed to shine a spotlight on the variety of innovative apprenticeship schemes available to young people across the UK. 

Primarily, these schemes offer young people the opportunity to learn and develop skills and to build a career, but they also offer huge benefits to businesses. With the country in the grip of a skills crisis, and the Great Resignation in full swing, they are a valuable alternative to traditional recruitment. 

With this in mind, we spoke to several industry leaders who offered their perspective on the rewards that apprenticeship schemes can provide.

Casting the net wider for recruitment 

In a challenging jobs market, apprenticeships offer organisations a way to bring in new talent, something that is especially important for sectors suffering from a skills gap. 

“The digital skills gap carries significant implications for almost every sector, but especially tech,” explains Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft. “Indeed, a recent Skillsoft report found that 76% of IT decision makers worldwide are facing critical skills gaps in their departments – a 145% increase since 2016. 

“With the ongoing ‘Great Resignation’ and the rate of technology change outpacing organisations’ existing skills development programs, organisations must cast their net wider to ensure there isn’t a dearth of talent they need in order to grow,” Nowakowska adds. 

“This National Apprenticeship Week, more employers should look beyond degree requirements when hiring, considering ‘STAR’ employees – workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes. With demand for digital-native talent at a premium, and the very nature of job roles evolving fast, apprenticeships can help bridge the gap – both for the skills needed within the organisation today and looking ahead to the future. Mutually beneficial, employees can perfect their core craft and branch out to learn new skills - building a strong growth foundation for the wider organisation.”

Young people long to engage with society and be an active part of their community

Jennifer Locklear, chief people officer at ConnectWise, agrees that apprenticeships can be a solution to the skills gap. “Offering incentives for new apprentice hires opens up the candidate pool to allow companies, especially smaller companies, to take advantage of talent that may have previously been overlooked due to a lack of experience. 

“Experienced leaders are critical to business continuity and continued success. With apprenticeship schemes, small and mid-sized companies can invest in building leaders from the ground up, instead of relying on a candidate pool that may have previously been cost prohibitive.  

“And, it is not just an opportunity to build and grow leaders, the development of digital skills means that companies can learn key skills to automate manual processes, understand the software available to streamline their businesses, and shift their focus to increased profitability. From an employee standpoint, showing them the roadmap for their job security and continued growth will change their focus from the uncertainty of the last year to productivity and career advancement.”

Looking beyond the CV

Finding and securing suitable candidates for apprenticeships will require HR teams to shift their hiring strategy – looking beyond the bullet points on a CV to evaluate potential over experience.

“It is fundamental that employers prioritise finding individuals who are willing to learn and adapt,” notes Ian Rawlings, RVP EMEA at SumTotal. “After all, one of the many benefits of apprenticeship schemes is that organisations can tailor the training that prospective employees receive with a view of keeping them within the business after they complete their scheme.” 

Gillian Mahon, chief people and places officer at Totalmobile, agrees: “It can be difficult for people without experience to secure jobs in tech – sometimes simply because they don’t feel confident enough in their own ability to apply. Apprenticeships provide that steppingstone where the person learns the job while being paid to train, and the company has the chance to train a potential future employee. It’s a win-win situation.” 

Significantly, 86% of employers surveyed by the Government Apprenticeship scheme said apprenticeships helped them develop skills relevant to their organisation. 

“This means, by the time they qualify, the apprentices will be well versed in the company’s systems, technology and culture, allowing them to hit the ground running in a permanent role,” says Rawlings.

Invest in the next generation

As well as benefiting businesses, apprenticeships offer an essential route into secure employment for young people. Terry Storrar, managing director at Leaseweb UK, observes: “Although unemployment amongst 18 - 24-year-olds has fallen to 9.8%, many of these workers are not in secure employment, for example with temporary contracts, zero-hours arrangements, agency work or variable hours.” 

“Build the Future, the theme of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, highlights the value of apprenticeships to organisations’ long-term recruitment, skills and business strategies. Apprenticeship schemes can be a great way of bringing promising individuals into the industry – giving them the tools, experience and practice needed to excel, and prove their return on investment.” 

Hugh Scantlebury, founder and CEO at Aqilla, echoes this sentiment: “The youth of today have had a difficult couple of years with disruption to their education and the challenge of beginning their careers in a hybrid working environment. From our work with Young Citizens, we know all too well that young people long to engage with society and be an active part of their community. This eagerness should be encouraged and utilised by organisations.” 

He also urges organisations to continue to invest financially in apprenticeships, even after current government incentives come to an end: “We must ensure that we are still giving the youth of today a leg up to achieve their potential. After all, they are the key to filling the ongoing skills gap and apprenticeships are a prime way to pass on these valuable skills.”

As the ‘Great Resignation’ rages on, organisations need to push ahead with their reskilling efforts to help defend against the ongoing talent crisis. Apprenticeships are a key avenue for future-proofing the workforce and staying one step ahead. 

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