Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Director, Kaplan Financial

Apprenticeships for all

Last week Tanni Grey-Thompson addressed the Work in Progress conference for ‘welfare to work’ providers.

In her powerful address she challenged us as providers to do more to help unemployed people including those with physical or mental disabilities into meaningful work and careers.

Other speakers made equally valid points about the continuing disparity between employment rates within communities and the differing values of the apprenticeship opportunities they obtain.

The understandable but predictable response from the audience was that “we need employers to step up” and that we need “government to make it easier / stop messing..”.

Both of which are true - but these are not temporary barriers that will one day disappear.


Work In Progress 2017 95 ZF 3669 18796 1 001 095For employers, following the ever changing array of skills and employment initiatives will always play second fiddle to the immediate pressure of staying in business - and governments will always be creating, changing and then re-writing the rules of their initiatives; it’s what they do.

But this current era of record employment and falling migration – combined with an expanded all-age, all-level, all-industry apprenticeship programme - is a golden opportunity for all of those who are capable of work, to find work and for us to really widen access to high skilled employment.

Pretty much every employer I have spoken to this year about Apprenticeships (and that’s a lot) has stated a wish to use Apprenticeships to diversify their workforce and open their business to a wider pool of talent. Indeed the introduction of the levy has, at large employers at least, promoted many an audit of company workforce characteristics and produced really progressive plans to diversify, train and retain.

So how do we use the current reform of Apprenticeships and the great market disruption it is bringing as an opportunity to ensure that in the future apprenticeships bring benefits to a wider section of our society?

Disrupting the status quo

The number of apprenticeships ‘available’ is very likely to fall before it rises again.

Not all large employers will view the levy as an immediate opportunity for change and many non-levy paying employers will find it a real challenge to find a provider with funding.

But over the next few years enough employers will take enough action to create a whole new set of opportunities. Allowing us to use the progressive nature of apprenticeships to provide supportive recruitment, employment and training pathways.

The Digital revolution and the changing nature of work

This is aided by the other big current theme in employment, Automation and the increased Digitalisation of work.

Clair Mowbray the CEO of the National College for High Speed Rail explained that the nature of Rail engineering is now (and will continue to be) about software as much as hardware. And that most High Speed rail jobs will involve working on a computer rather than on a track. You don’t need to be able to lift a girder to work in the modern rail industry.

So - no barrier to anyone with a logical brain working in this exciting and expanding industry then.

The recent CIPD skills report – ‘Making the UK's skills system world class’ also makes some similar points.

Not least that those employers who train now will need to do so even more in the future and that we cannot stop learning in any career, anymore. This creates multiple ‘step- in’ or ‘step-up’ points within employers and industries as jobs ‘cycle’ and employers have to continually re-train to thrive.

Peter Cheese CIPD CEO comments: “our ability to upskill and reskill our workforces, ... will need a much stronger focus”

And recruiters need to look beyond straight As and shiny CVs as an indicator of long term suitability, making use of new tools like strengths-based recruitment which focus on the potential of people.

These trends are clearly not incompatible with the new array of apprenticeships.

Indeed all-age-all-level apprenticeships are ideal vehicles for upskilling and reskilling. Facilitating supported progression or role changes for existing staff as well as filling new positions in expanding sectors.

Apprenticeships and the link to employment services

There are currently over 700 Apprenticeships advertised on the JCPs ‘Universal job match’ system – against a record number of [700,000] job vacancies in the economy.

This is a high number (of apprenticeships) for this system, but only a fraction of the jobs available and indeed of the apprenticeships that are available. We might reasonably ask why aren’t all apprenticeship job opportunities on the JCP system? (it is only one government system talking to another) and how successful are JCP in finding Apprenticeships for job seekers.

Longer term the forthcoming ‘T’ levels promise to be a bridge from School to work and apprenticeships – but this is something that we cannot expect to bear fruit for several years.

So how do those currently being overlooked for high quality apprenticeships get in? (beyond firing off multiple, unanswered applications).

Traineeship is possibly in its penultimate year as a national programme and the future of Sector based work academies is equally opaque. We will have to see what the LEPs, combined authorities and our new Mayors do to build local bridges into employment.

In the meantime we should all be encouraging this new set of local decision makers and the apprenticeship employers that we work with to consider access of opportunity as being as important as headline grabbing targets. And to build with us the bridges that will be needed to connect the new opportunities with all of our communities.

Richard Marsh, Apprenticeship Director, Kaplan Financial

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