From education to employment

How apprenticeships help bridge the STEM skills gap

Following National Apprenticeship Week, I was interested to read a recent report by CBI highlighting that over a third of businesses are struggling to recruit enough engineers. Late last year, YouGov found that nearly six in ten employers of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates think there is a skills gap in Britain, which highlights the importance of nurturing young talent in these subjects.

After the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warned of the economic implications of not having enough skilled workers, the YouGov study found that more than eight in ten (83%) businesses and almost nine in ten (89%) academics think the skills gap needs to be bridged in order for the UK to be competitive in the global economy. Indeed, for EDF Energy, it is paramount that we continue to get people excited in careers in science and engineering if we are to continue to build and maintain low-carbon energy solutions, helping to secure a sustainable future for generations to come.

This is where apprenticeships come in. Apprenticeship schemes such as the ones offered at EDF Energy are a means of addressing these future STEM skills shortages by contributing to the highly skilled workforce required to operate and maintain our power stations. They enable young people to participate in education and training direct from their chosen industry whilst gaining a recognised qualification and earning a living. Importantly, they help young people transition from education to work, equipping them with not only the technical knowledge needed to work within the industry, but the attitude and behaviours too.

Participation in apprenticeship schemes is still low compared to alternative education routes; according to the Daily Telegraph, in the first quarter of 2013, 108,000 people started an apprenticeship, whilst 495,000 people started a course at university last September. However, the hike in university tuition fees and the tough graduate jobs market has made apprenticeships an appealing alternative to university. So much so that last year, some 860,000 people had joined apprenticeship schemes, double the figure from five years ago.

At EDF Energy we work hard to ensure that those on our apprenticeship schemes become well-rounded individuals who are passionate about developing a career in STEM. After two years at a Royal Navy training facility in Hampshire, the apprentices are ready to move into working at one of our power stations. They then continue their journey in the third and fourth years of their training prior to graduating to perform to the highest standards necessary for maintaining equipment on a nuclear plant, which is great in helping to bridge the STEM skills gap.

Jess Batts (21) joined the nuclear safety team at EDF Energy as an apprentice straight from school three years ago. During this time she has been given the opportunity to take a three year Foundation Degree in Nuclear Engineering and is very active in the local community to promote the different career options available in STEM subjects to young people. She says, “People are often quite surprised when I tell them I work in Nuclear. Perhaps because they still associate scientists with a nerdy stereotype, or perhaps because the term ‘nuclear’ is still something that people don’t quite understand. However, I’ve always had a fascination with science and why things do what they do, which is why this apprenticeship is the perfect fit for me. STEM is in everyone’s lives, whether they like it or not. It shapes the world around us; it is our past, present and our future. We therefore need to engage young people around the opportunities available in this field, to help preserve our future.”

We have found that the positive attitude apprentices tend to possess is not only beneficial for the apprentices themselves, but also for the company as a whole. The apprentices are seen as driving a culture change of positive attitudes and behaviours across the existing workforce, which is really encouraging to see.

To demonstrate how beneficial apprenticeships are in bridging the STEM skills gap, all apprentices who graduated in 2011 and 2012 were taken on full time, helping to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and technicians, who are working hard to build a better future.

Ian Williams is apprenticeship manager at EDF Energy, one of the largest UK home and business energy suppliers

For more information on an apprenticeship with EDF Energy, visit

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