The #FutureofApprenticeships post-COVID-19: COVID-19 has raised significant challenges for young people seeking to enter the job market. In the UK for example a total of 543,000 young people aged between 16-24 were unemployed in July 2020, an increase of 122% compared with March. In my home country of Azerbaijan, youth unemployment stood at 14.56% in 2019, this will undoubtedly rise this year as a result of COVID-19 with the IMF predicting a £9.6tn hit to the global economy. With increased levels of home working, opportunities are shrinking for young people to develop key skills highly sought-after by employers. Through my experiences in business, I understand the vital importance for young people to be afforded opportunities to develop skills and gain valuable work experience. Apprenticeships allow young people to develop their potential and enter the workforce earlier.
There has been a notable increase in the number of apprenticeships offered in European countries. In England, over 742,000 people are now participating in apprenticeships across an estimated 170 industries. Indeed, apprenticeships are also not just for those who have recently left school. During the first nine months of the 2019/20 academic year, those aged 25 and over made up 44.7 per cent of apprenticeship starts. Nations outside Europe are also trying to increase their vocational education capacity, demonstrated by South Africa’s plan to place 2.5 million students in vocational education in the next 20 years, representing a fourfold increase. This is a welcome initiative given the country’s long-standing issue with youth unemployment, currently at 54%. Apprenticeships are a highly effective alternative route into the workplace for students and young adults who may not wish to pursue a university education, yet there has been little recent media coverage on the issue.
As both an employer and a member of the further education community through my founding of the European Azerbaijan School, I understand how apprenticeships offer a chance for young people to hone their skills through hands-on experience and training, while also earning while they learn. From a business perspective, apprentices enhance competitiveness, with research showing that each apprentice can bring a gain in productivity of more than £10,000 per year for their employer. Additionally, 77 per cent of employers agree that apprentices contribute to the modernising of their respective companies.
In Azerbaijan, vocational education has a significant role to play in plans to diversify the nation’s economic development. With 40 per cent of the country’s population below the age of 25, vocational education should be seen as a vital investment for the nation’s long-term economic resilience. Azerbaijan has already made significant progress in up-skilling its workforce with nearly 70% of the workforce holding at least an upper-secondary qualification. The European Training Foundation estimated that vocational students make up around 20 per cent of Azerbaijani students in secondary education, with the number steadily rising. This demonstrates the increasing attractiveness of vocational programmes and coincides with efforts from the government to make upskilling its young workers a national priority as part of the ‘Azerbaijan 2020: Look into the Future’ concept of development.
The Ministry of Education is also working closely with the British Council to develop Azerbaijan’s vocational education system. This partnership led to the establishment of the ‘Access to Hospitality and Apprenticeship Scheme’ in 2017, which aims to increase the role of vocational education in the hospitality sector. The programme has attracted 16 hospitality industry partners and has substantially increased employment opportunities for participants by developing their skills and knowledge through hands-on experience. The programme has had a positive effect, with 60 per cent of all programme participants receiving permanent employment offers from the hotels or organisations that they interned at in the first year of the scheme.
Azerbaijan’s recent election to ‘World Skills Asia’ also demonstrates the nation’s willingness to cooperate on a regional level with other countries to enhance its vocational education programme. I hope that this development will present further opportunities for cultural exchange amongst young apprentices as well as improving ties with other nations.
As the world seeks to rebuild the global economy post COVID-19, both policymakers and business leaders must strive to ensure that we train the next generation seeking to enter the workforce. Businesses that continue to hire apprentices during COVID-19 are giving young people a chance to learn and thrive in a period of economic turmoil – thus helping in a small way to ensure long-term economic prosperity. If policymakers and businesses lose sight of the benefits of apprenticeships, then in the long-term we will lose out on securing our tomorrow. To ensure our sustained recovery and ensure that the economy will be fit for the future, governments must continue to support and promote apprenticeships and other elements of vocational education. Our future lies in the hands of these young people. It is our responsibility to allow them to prepare for it.
Mr. Tale Heydarov is the Chairman of Gilan Holdings, Founder of the European Azerbaijan School, Azerbaijan Teachers Development Centre, Libraff bookstores network, TEAS Publishing House, and until recently served as the President of Gabala FC football club (Azerbaijan Premier League) and Gabala Sports Club.