Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner

With Apprenticeship Week 2021 already in full swing, @futuregencymru, @sophiehowe, explains why she encourages her children to consider becoming apprentices and what she believes makes apprenticeships a prosperous route into work for future generations to come.

More than ever before, there’s an increasing anxiety amongst young people about their career decisions after leaving school. The impact of Covid-19 on the economy has resulted in many re-evaluating their options, creating apprehension not only for them, but also for their parents.

Both as the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, a role I hold as part of Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations Act, which requires us to think about how our actions today impact upon the future generations of tomorrow and as a mother-of-five, I’m no stranger to this. I have a good insight into the various pathways that are available to school leavers and have experienced my own children facing these life-changing career decisions.

I would always support my children on whichever route they felt was best for them. But when they approach me for guidance on their next steps, I actively encourage them to explore the apprenticeship route. 

My 17-year-old son had always planned on going to university to pursue a career in marketing, but after seeing an apprenticeship opportunity with global digital marketing brand, Unilever, it encouraged him to explore some of the other options available. He soon realised that an apprenticeship would allow him to start his career straight out of school, while working towards a nationally recognised qualification and learning from industry professionals – and he’d earn a wage. He soon changed his mind, and an apprenticeship became the most attractive option.

When I was a teenager, I never considered an apprenticeship, neither was I ever encouraged to do one. My father had completed an apprenticeship as a mechanic, but when I was growing up, there was a big shift away from this learning route and a huge push throughout society towards going to university. 

It’s easy for parents to emulate how they were parented. If you’re a parent who was swayed against apprenticeships, then it’s worth exploring how this way of learning has adapted since you were at school. 

Apprenticeships have evolved – they’re innovative, they can be revolutionary. There’s now a breadth of opportunities across a wealth of sectors in Wales – from creative, digital, life science and in green renewable industries. These are the industries of the future and there’s a duty on us to understand, and prepare our children, for these shifting work and skills demands. If these opportunities were available to me as a teenager, my career path could certainly have been very different. 

I feel there’s a disconnect between what skills individuals think employers want compared to what employers actually need. As an employer myself, and as someone who regularly engages with employers, apprenticeships are widely respected as a beneficial recruitment option; allowing businesses to hone the skills of enthusiastic employees to meet their needs. 

I’ve recruited apprentices in my organisation who have become an integral part of my workforce. For me, it’s a cost-effective way to recruit and it really helps to plug skills gaps. Not only this, but existing staff within the office have also learned from them; it’s a two-way skills swap. My former apprentice is now a key member of my team and she’s proof of how the Apprenticeships Programme produces loyal, talented and valuable employees. 

The long-term impact of investing in young people rests heavily on our actions right now. Ultimately, what’s put in place today will benefit us all tomorrow. It’s crucial we create opportunities for young people; we cannot leave a generation behind without skills, prospects or jobs. 

Exposing individuals to a working environment at a young age helps them become more aware and engaged with the world around them. The experience instigates personal skills, besides professional ones, such as creativity, emotional intelligence and critical thinking - all valuable attributes which employers seek. 

Indeed, the pandemic poses difficult challenges for businesses, but we can capitalise on the opportunities currently presented. We’re living in a digital revolution and are increasingly seeing advancements in our green and renewable industries. By acting now, we can make the most of these opportunities by developing and future-proofing a workforce that has the skills to secure the future success of Wales. 

Apprenticeships are an effective way of building a skilled workforce that’s fit for the jobs of the future. While for young people, they’re a proven route into a sustainable employment in key industries that can offer rewarding careers and progression opportunities. Apprenticeships really are a genius decision. 

I truly believe that to become a prosperous Wales, which is one of the goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, Government and business need to continue working together to ensure we have a pipeline of talent that boasts the wide range of skills Wales’ needs to capitalise on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

It’s important that there are different pathways into work and there’s still a place for all these routes both now and in the future. As parents, we’ll always advise and support our children as best we can in making these life-changing career choices, and that can start by educating ourselves on the variety of opportunities that are available. Like me, you may be surprised which pathway you encourage your children to follow.

 Sophie How, Future Generations Commissioner

 

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