Apprenticeships, once deemed secondary to university education, are back in fashion as the number of employers signing on apprentices are up by nearly a third (32 per cent) from last year. By John Roddy, Chief Executive of the UK Total Security Solutions firm, The Shield Group.
National Apprenticeship Week provided a great opportunity to assess the business impact of the rapid rise in apprentices and evaluate why they are proving so popular.Youth unemployment, although gradually falling, is a key concern for many families up and down the country, with currently 16.2 per cent of all 16-24 year olds without a job, let alone a foot on the career ladder. But apprenticeships, a combination of part-time educational programmes and on-the-job learning, are providing young people an alternative option to be at the forefront of the UK’s businesses instead of the more traditional graduate scheme route.
At The Shield Group, the building of our apprentices’ numeracy and literacy skills (skills they didn’t learn in school) is a crucial aspect to our programmes, and apprentices usually relish this second opportunity. Businesses need to take a bigger responsibility in giving our young people the skills they need to succeed, which will go some way in reducing youth unemployment and, from our experience, in reducing youth crime.
The shift towards vocational development is clearly having a positive impact on businesses across the UK. There’s no denying that apprenticeships are a great way for young talent to enter the workforce, giving school leavers the chance to develop skills for their chosen career path whilst giving businesses the fresh outlook, new ideas and flexibility needed to succeed. Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that the majority of apprentices are currently under the age of 25, giving employers the chance to shape and develop their workforce from the onset of their working lives. Apprentices are taught to embrace a company’s culture from an early age and as a result become even more aware of its overall objectives. Not only does this allow companies to mould apprentices into articulate business-minded people, but I have found that having such schemes has a positive knock-on effect amongst existing employees, whose morale is lifted knowing their employer is committed to training and professional development at all levels.
However, if you wish for your apprentices to feel they belong to the business, my experience has been that nothing makes this clearer than hiring them on the same basis as your permanent employees, including the level of pay. At The Shield Group, we not only empower our apprentices through the opportunity to learn new skills and industry qualifications but also empower them in their pocket, underlining the value of their services to our business strategy. Productivity is a common concern for employers’ considering adopting apprenticeship schemes. But a survey last year conducted by Populus showed 81 per cent say that hiring apprentices help boost the productivity of their company, with businesses report an average increase in productivity by £214 a week. Whilst it is not legally required, paying your apprentices a decent wage will increase their commitment to your business and, naturally, address concerns over productivity.
Lastly, the apprentices I have come across at The Shield Group are some of the most hardworking, conscientious members of our business and it now seems hard to imagine operating our normal business functions without them. It’s why some 86 per cent of apprentices stay in employment after their initial apprenticeship finishes, and why public sector bodies are keen to provide 100 percent funding to help run a scheme.
We are only half way there in realising the potential of apprenticeship schemes for our national economy which is why, ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, I would like to encourage all business leaders to get on board.