As the UK moves towards recovery from the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for business leaders to equip their company and employees with the skills they need to help them grow and create a competitive edge. Apprenticeships may be the unsung hero when it comes to doing this.
Traditionally, apprenticeships were dominated by the trades such as mechanics, construction and engineering. However, they have evolved considerably, and now span a wider range of sectors and job functions.
I am a huge champion of apprenticeships and graduate programmes. Despite the significant drop in apprenticeship programmes during lockdown, they have long been an important part of creating a successful team and culture, and a crucial way for employers to invest in nurturing the next generation of talent in a practical way. This is key to a company’s long-term success – particularly at my company. The good news is after last year’s slump, figures published by the UK government in early 2021 show the number of programmes are rising as more apprentices take up work and more businesses again recognise the potential of these programmes.
However, there will have been some companies that worked to maintain their investment in apprentices throughout the pandemic, like ours. Now, around 20% of our workforce is made of individuals that started their career as a graduate apprentice. Supporting and encouraging future tech talent is in our DNA and everyone can gain from the programme – not only the apprentices, but also the wider team. From access to new ideas, thinking and skills, this only enriches the service we provide alongside positively benefitting the overall company culture. I don’t understand businesses that overlook this brilliant group of individuals and, given the positives available through the entire organisation, it’s vital that all businesses – regardless of size or sector – consider hiring from this group.
Types of Apprenticeships
There are a number of different types of apprenticeships for people at various stages of education and experience. In Scotland, for example, there are three versions: Foundation, Modern, and Graduate. It is the latter that we tend to use most but, just as every apprentice is created differently, every business should consider the type of apprentice that will work best for them
It is the opportunity to gain hands-on experience that employers should ultimately consider as a huge asset – as well as access to a cohort that they may never have engaged (or considered engaging with) before. This applies to all industries, but is particularly relevant in the tech sector, where apprentices can work with the latest technology and encounter the latest practical methodologies all while positively contributing to the success of a business.
Employment vs Education
Employers, business leaders and HR teams need to inspire the next generation of talent to succeed in the workforce. This begins with education – but doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom.
The long running “degree versus work” debate usually reveals that both career paths have their merits. Job applicants who attended university have presumably learned a range of skills while studying topics that interest and potentially inspire them. They will have graduated with a recognised qualification to showcase their knowledge and passion. However, education is mostly theory-based rather than practical, and learning exclusively through seminars and lectures is not right for everyone.
Some industries welcome applicants without a degree or relevant qualification. Those who skip higher education and join the workforce straight from school are often following their passion and display confidence about the career they want.
Apprenticeships should be a blend between the two: learning on the job and gaining hands-on experience, all while working towards an industry-recognised qualification. The skills taught are usually tied to a particular industry or role, rather than a broader education like at university, but apprentices are confident about the sector or job function they want; we believe that our programme gives them just that. This is the approach we believe works best and in November this year, we will see the first of our apprentice cohort graduate from university having gained very hands on experience within the business, backing up their learning.
Business Benefits for Employers
But sometimes, this is not enough to convince employers to consider opening up their talent pool to apprentices.
Put a different way, research from the University of Würzburg found that offering training opportunities to staff increases their loyalty by more than ten percent. According to the study, even in cases where employees earned certifications that would allow them to command a higher salary elsewhere, employees tended to remain loyal to the company that trained them. If that’s not of benefit to a business leader, I don’t know what is.
If one also considers the breadth of background that apprenticeships provide, the diversity of thought that they bring will benefit a business tenfold. The nature of apprenticeships means people come from all backgrounds, ranging from former military personnel to those from underprivileged households. This plays a role in expanding the diversity of your workforce, which brings with it a range of benefits such as increased innovation and improved financial performance, helping to create a competitive advantage.
Put simply, apprenticeships are not just a great choice for personal and career development, they are also excellent for the bottom line.
Solving the Skills Gap
With all this considered against the backdrop of the continuing skills gap we are seeing in the tech sector, it makes apprentice programmes even more appealing. Keeping the pool of talent as open as possible will contribute to closing this gap which will not only support the individual and the business but, in the long-term, these apprenticeships also benefit the Scottish economy.
As such, it makes more sense than ever for industry to pay close attention to the makeup of apprenticeship programmes – be they Foundation, Modern or Graduate – and make sure they are active in shaping them to guarantee the skillset that will be required in the immediate future.
We must readjust our preconceptions that the right candidate for a job was once a well-educated employee with significant knowledge gained in a classroom. Now, we need individuals with the ability to find and verify information, who know how to listen and communicate, and is a valuable team member. These are skills that can be developed on the job – and, in fact, will ensure employees are learning in a way that benefits their development and the company’s needs.
Especially with regard to the tech sector, not only are apprenticeships a viable option for finding employees, but they should also, in many cases, be viewed as the best option.
Anyone that doesn’t invest in apprenticeships are, frankly, not contributing towards closing that gap; those who fail to address this ongoing issue will lose out in the long term.