From education to employment

Budget 2023 – how apprenticeships could help get Britons back into work

With policy announcements aimed at tempting over-50s back into the workplace expected in the Chancellor’s Budget, SFJ Awards Managing Director Candace Miller assesses the role that apprenticeships could play in reintegrating the ‘missing million workers’ that have dropped out of the labour market post-Covid. 

Few sectors of the economy appear to be immune from skills shortages at the moment. 

From retail and hospitality to engineering, healthcare and technology, statistics from the ONS show job vacancies are at a near record high. 

Part of the reason for this is that the pandemic has had a transformative effect on the world of work, which has depleted the skills pool. 

On the one hand, attitudes have shifted. The pandemic prompted many of us to revaluate what we want out of our careers – a factor seen as contributing to the so-called ‘great resignation’, which has seen workers leave their jobs in droves.  

On the other hand, increasing numbers of over-50s in the UK are now also classed as economically inactive, with a growing percentage taking early retirement since the start of the pandemic. 

Perhaps a more worrying trend to have emerged in the post-pandemic world of work is the rise of so-called ‘quiet quitting’.  Borne of boredom and frustration with their careers, ‘quiet quitting’ describes the situation whereby an employee does the bare minimum of what is required and passes up on the opportunity to learn new skills and in turn their career progression. 

The upshot of these trends is a shrinking labour pool that is shorn of older and more experienced workers, and which suffers from a lack of liquidity and dynamism, with workers seemingly less willing to climb the career ladder or move around. 

Whilst of course it would be misguided to suggest that there is a catch all solution to these problems, however, one cannot help but thinking that apprenticeships have a role to play here in tackling the mismatch between skill demand and skill utilisation across various sectors.  

Apprenticeships offer a compelling way of attracting some of the groups who have opted out of the workforce back in, as well as enabling people to change careers and find a renewed sense of purpose to fill pressing skills gaps. 

The old adage that a change is as good as a rest is particularly apt here in deterring would be quiet quitters I would suggest, given that an apprenticeship offers workers looking to make a change the opportunity to learn new skills and get paid for it.  

Whilst it is true that an apprentice will not earn as much as a CEO, workers might be surprised to learn that (according to sources) the average salary for an apprentice in the United Kingdom stands at roughly £30,000, slightly above the national average outside of London. 

Individuals opting for a change of career via the apprenticeship route often report that a newfound sense of fulfilment in their work is worth the short-term dent to their finances too. 

This is a message that we need to be better at getting across if we are to encourage individuals to change their career paths and unlock the skills required to grow our economy and deliver excellent public services. 

Another message that champions of apprentices such as learning centres and awarding bodies need to keep banging the drum about is the fact that age and career stage present no barrier to embarking upon an apprenticeship. 

The number of apprentices over-45 has generally increased over the years and it has been reported that in certain sectors over-50s have a higher success rate in their apprenticeships than any other age group. 

The story of the UK’s oldest apprentice – Bob Bryce – who at 76 decided to undertake a Level 3 apprentice to learn new skills and land a promotion, should be an inspiration to us all. 

Despite this, however, negative perceptions pervade amongst some employers and workers, presenting a barrier to the apprenticeship model helping us to overcome our current skills challenges. 

Whereas in the past, think of an apprentice and it would conjure up images of boiler suits and oily rags, we know that apprentices are increasingly likely to be sitting at a computer or rushing to the scene of an emergency as they are operating a lathe or getting their hands dirty on a construction site for example. 

That being so when communicating with employers and the public, we need to be clear that apprenticeships are about creating new skills and capabilities for growth, whether upskilling or employing new staff, whatever the industry. 

Apprenticeships might be just the tonic to just some of the skills challenges that the country is facing right now.

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