David Lakin is Head of Education at the IET

Apprenticeships and the development of good quality training schemes to support the next generation of engineering and technology talent are a vital element of tackling the deficit in skills across the industry.

This involves increasing not only the number but also the quality of engineering apprenticeships available to young people in education, as well as improving the information and guidance given to them at the time when they are making their choices about which career path to follow.

However, one year on from the introduction of the apprenticeship levy - the government initiative to fund more apprenticeships and encourage employers to hire more apprentices – apprenticeship starts are falling and there remain fundamental difficulties with the perception of vocational training in the UK.

Levy issues

Despite a recent small rise in popularity (7% from 2015 to 2016), initial data from Engineering UK’s 2018 State of Engineering report suggests that engineering-related apprenticeship starts are dropping. Further research by the OU states that only £108 million of the £1.39 billion collected has been withdrawn by employers.

According to the IET’s own 2017 survey into skills and demand in industry, only one quarter of engineering businesses (27%) said the levy will increase the number of apprentices they take on in contrast to more than half (53%) saying it won’t. One fifth of employers (20%) are still unsure of the impact the levy has on their apprenticeship provision.

The Government’s ambition to hit three million overall apprenticeship starts by 2020 therefore looks increasingly shaky, with the latest figures indicating that it is a significant 18% below the target trajectory.

There is an urgent need for the Government to make the apprenticeship levy rules simpler and clearer for both levy-paying businesses and the smaller non-levy paying companies (who make up the majority of UK engineering employers), who can have 90% of their apprenticeship costs paid for out of the levy surplus.

Inspiring the next generation

Just as importantly, education and industry must work together to inspire school children and enthuse them about vocational routes into industry.

This starts with good careers advice and guidance in schools and the promotion of apprenticeship routes through STEM ambassadors and STEM programmes in ways young people and – importantly - parents can relate to.

Many of the preconceived ideas about university education stem from a generation of parents who believe that a degree is the only guaranteed gateway to career success, combined with a lack of awareness of other worthwhile routes into industry. In reality, a degree is not actually required for many of the varied roles in engineering where the skills gaps are most acute.

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Efforts to promote apprenticeships need to focus on redressing this balance and removing the stigma associated with young people choosing a vocational route into a career.

Industry can do their bit too: a close collaboration between engineering employers and education on designing the content of vocational courses or sponsoring tailored academies would help employers build the specific skills, experience and knowledge they’re looking for and support work-readiness in young people.

Providing young people with a properly structured experience of engineering is another crucial part of the process to inspire and recruit new talent. Bringing in a young person to make the tea and do the photocopying will not give a positive first impression of the industry. Spending constructive time in an engineering company can give a budding engineer valuable insight into both the business and the industry at a time when the world of work is still an abstract concept.

Support for emerging talent

The IET is committed to encouraging more young people into engineering apprenticeships through its annual awards programme, which each year provides over £1million in awards, prizes and scholarships to celebrate excellence and research in the sector and encourage the next generation of engineers and technicians.

Our Engineering Horizons Bursary scheme is designed to support talented individuals facing personal obstacles or financial hardship to complete their training as an apprentice with a package of financial support and membership of the IET.

Separately, our Apprentice of the Year Award identifies individuals who have made an impact on their organisation and on the engineering profession. By celebrating their hard work and acknowledging organisations who have supported them, we spread the word about the benefits of apprenticeships each year.

The more that industry bodies, employers and schools are able to point out the positive impact that apprenticeships can have on individuals who want an interesting and challenging career, the easier it will be to attract future apprentices and to show this route into industry is just as valid as any other.

David Lakin is Head of Education at the IET

The IET Apprentice of the Year Awards 2018 are open for entries now. See IET Apprentice of the Year award for information on how to enter.

To find out more information about the Horizons Bursary scheme for engineers in training who face financial obstacles or hardship, visit the IET Horizons Bursary website

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