This year’s National Apprenticeships Week happened against a bleak backdrop for those in the engineering community.

Only in December, figures from the Department for Education showed that there had been a 38 percent drop in level two apprenticeships. Analysis of the data showed that engineering was one of four sectors in which this decline was most significant.

Compounding this, further analysis by the government’s Social Mobility Commission has highlighted that young people under the age of 25 are less likely to believe that apprenticeships provide opportunities to progress in their future careers.

The value of apprentices

Everyone in the engineering industry and further afield understands the value of apprentices. They are the future of our industries, the next generation of skilled employees who will transform our industries and help solve the world’s challenges.

However, clearly there is a need to do much more to demonstrate the value an apprenticeship can add to someone’s career to encourage more people towards this type of training.

Central to the SPIE apprenticeship programme is offering apprentices to work in a variety of environments that challenge people to adapt and develop their skills.

By offering people a number of different career paths from which to choose from, SPIE provides people with a wide range of options with the chance to learn and develop their skills.

Apprentices follow a work-based training programme. Not only is this important for learning from more experienced colleagues on the job, it also means that apprentices have the opportunity to learn new skills on a daily basis.

This on-the-job training is complemented by a formal industry recognised college qualification in the chosen trade of the apprentice. At the end of four years, SPIE’s apprentices qualify as a competent individual in their chosen specialism.

Clear routes for career progression and development

The strength with an apprenticeship is that whatever route an individual wants to take in the progression of their career, there are options open to them.

Whether people come to an apprenticeship straight out of school or pursue a higher education qualification and then enter an apprenticeship, there are clear routes for progression and development.

Key to encouraging more people to take up apprenticeships is ensuring that the opportunities for progression are clear. Looking at the Social Mobility Commission data, this is clearly one of the areas where there is a breakdown in awareness that causes many to believe apprenticeships are not a viable option for them.

If it isn’t clear to young people how they can further their professional lives through an apprenticeship, then they aren’t going to sign up.

Mentoring and support programmes throughout their development

In order to develop the industry’s future leaders, apprentices need to be supported throughout their development.

For example, offering the trainees a mentor who understands the apprentice programme and the opportunities it provides can help ensure that apprentices understand all of the opportunities that are available to them, both during and after the qualification.

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Apprentices need to be aware that they can access a range of development programmes, both during and after their apprenticeship, that help them develop the skills they need to progress through the business.

Moreover, mentorship should come from a different area of the business to that which the apprentice works in. This ensures that they will learn from the largest range of real-world experiences possible, setting them up for a successful future.

Apprentices critical for the future of engineering

Successfully developing the next generation of engineering apprentices is critical for the future resiliency of our industry.

The average age of an engineer in the UK is reportedly 54 years old. This puts a wealth of engineering knowledge and expertise at risk of walking out of the door due to retirement in the not too distant future.

In addition, the most recent analysis by non-profit Engineering UK has pointed to an annual shortfall of 59,000 engineers, illustrating that we really are facing a cliff edge in terms of skills availability.

For engineering businesses, developing apprentices that can fill these roles isn’t simply a matter of producing some positive statistics or meeting an intangible government target, it is a business imperative.

David Mills, Talent Director for SPIE UK

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