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Banking on apprenticeships

At Barclays, we recently welcomed our 1,000th apprentice, and we’re immensely proud of the talented young people now working in roles in IT and digital marketing, corporate and investment banking, as well as across customer service centres and our wider branch network.

Of course they are a huge asset to our business, but the benefits they bring don’t all end up with the employer and the young people receiving valuable qualifications. Increasingly, we’re able to see the benefit to the wider economy begin to shine through.

Apprentices are now being trained across a wide range of sectors and businesses. Not only is this a real positive for younger people still struggling to find employment, but also for the economy as a whole. Barclays recently conducted research1 to quantify the economic benefit generated by all these new apprentices and to find out which sectors are hiring the most. We found that admin and support services have the highest representation in their workforce; currently 2.2 percent of all jobs in the industry (banking) are an apprenticeship.That’s 56,000 apprentices contributing £562 million to UK productivity every single year.

This gets even more exciting when we think about what might be possible across the entire economy. If the 19 other industries were able to match this 2.2 percent target, and between them create 438,000 more apprenticeships, the UK economy could enjoy an annual productivity boost close to £4.4bn. Broken down by industry, Financial and Insurance would need to take on 19,000 more apprentices; Wholesale, retail trade and repair 77,000; and 30,000 positions would need to be made available in construction. Even industries known for offering apprenticeships such as engineering and manufacturing, which have well established pathways for developing talent, would need to add 38,000 to their workforce to reach this 2.2 percent figure. However, if this industry alone were able to fill this gap, the economy could see a £377 million benefit each and every year.

The first question you may ask, where these 438,000 apprentices are going to come from, is the easiest to answer. There are currently over 950,000 young people currently unemployed in the UK, almost a third of which have been looking for work for more than a year. If even half of these jobseekers were able to access an apprenticeship we would reach the employment levels needed to reach the £4.4bn mark. The potential offered by this million strong resource shouldn’t be underestimated. 86 percent of the apprentices starting at Barclays were not in employment, education or training (NEET) before joining. Just over half had been unemployed for more than six months and one in four for more than a year. One in three of our apprentices had fewer than four GCSEs at grades A-C, but with structured in-work training have become highly valued parts of the business.

There’s also no question that the demand for these placements exists; our latest LifeSkills Youth Barometer found that half of all young people have considered an apprenticeship. All this suggests the business community, and HR departments in particular, need to do more to turn this interest into opportunities. Michael Gove recently called for closer links between schools and employers and encouraged business leaders to reach out to schools with talks and work experience opportunities. This is a message that Barclays wholeheartedly agrees with. It’s why we launched LifeSkills: to make these links easier to establish and maintain.   The second question, and the one we must be asking ourselves, is how we can deploy HR to creatively develop apprenticeship placements in our own companies. As the economy begins to gather momentum, we will hope to grow our businesses. This will only be possible by hiring the very best talent and training them to reach their potential. Apprenticeships should be one of the routes that all businesses seriously consider when they hire at entry level. The benefits will be felt across the country. 

1 The research combined data from The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR). The CEBR estimates every apprentice completing their apprenticeship contributes £214 to the UK economy every year.

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