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Can Apprenticeships Help Mend the UK’s Decaying Labour Market and Close the STEM Skills Gap?

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It is no secret that the UK employment market has changed in the past few years, both as a result of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, though there are various and complex reasons for the issues permeating the recruitment industry.

While the UK is not the only country to experience labour shortages after Covid-19, the influence of Brexit has further damaged the nation’s already precarious post-pandemic job market, with the UK’s exit from the EU having a deep impact on the amount of non-British individuals seeking work in the UK.

The UK job market is the tightest it has ever been in recent years, with 1.1 unemployed people per open role. However, some industries are struggling more than others.

Engineering accounts for 18% of all UK employment, being a vital part of the UK economy, yet the sector is experiencing severe skills shortages and continuously increasing demand, with a shortfall of 55,000 engineers per year.

And if recruitment targets are not currently being met, employers may need to rethink their approach. Lack of awareness and understanding of engineering as a profession, failure to put forward engineering as a career in the right ways and to offer access to routes outside of traditional academia are all factors to consider.

Apprenticeship schemes are one of the most effective and rewarding paths to follow in the STEM fields, yet they are still not being explored as viable options by many young people looking to kickstart their career or employers struggling to recruit.

“Many don’t realise the importance of apprenticeships within the current job market,” says James Sopwith, group strategic account director at multidisciplinary UK engineering firm adi Group.

“Employers have a lot to gain by building and promoting quality apprenticeship programmes and nurturing young talent within their organisation from the very start, but there is a lot of misinformation out there.

“We simply need to change the way we think. Many young people aren’t currently being offered the right opportunities, and many don’t consider engineering as a potential career due to lack of information or accessibility to the profession.

“It is imperative that we supply young people with the learning opportunities they need to develop and explore their options,” James continued.

Closing the STEM skills gap is essential to promote a bright future of innovation, and though apprenticeships have been recognised as an effective solution due to their ability to generate exactly the practical skills needed by employers, many still choose to pursue degrees or other further education courses, despite evidence suggesting that these often lack the right technical content.

A cost-effective way for employers to gain access to fresh, young talent and help them develop the skillset they need in order to succeed, apprenticeships provide opportunities for hands-on learning, to obtain professional qualifications, and for further development and progression within an organisation.

And if lack of practical training is one of the main reasons for the STEM skills shortage, there is no better path than apprenticeships.

“Not only can young people benefit from gaining on-the-job experience, but companies obtain exactly the skills they are looking for to propel their business to new heights, while improving employee retention and saving on the cost of future recruitment.

“Apprenticeships are a way of investing in young individuals who are highly motivated to learn and grow, which naturally builds a path to success for organisations, too. But apprenticeships should also provide value for young apprentices, enhancing their employability,” adds James.

Though apprenticeship schemes are now being considered by more STEM employers, they are still overlooked career options, with more than half of young people believing that a university degree is more likely to help them secure a high-paying job than an apprenticeship.

Misconceptions about apprenticeships are then still widely in circulation, and not just amongst young individuals, with the majority of schools promoting university degrees over apprenticeships.

And parents have a huge role to play, too. A recent report revealed that the young people whose parents were aware of what a career in engineering entails were more than twice as likely to be interested in becoming an engineer than those whose parents did not have a firm understanding of the profession.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure we are presenting apprenticeships as viable, rewarding options, and not just for the majority,” says James.

“We now have extensive evidence showing that educating young people in the engineering profession generates higher rates of engagement, and apprenticeships are a great way to start for any employer who wants to be successful within the current job market,” he continued.

adi Group is one of those employers, with a strong commitment to offering high-quality apprenticeships for a variety of individuals, as well as promoting their overall benefits and ability to make a positive impact in the engineering sector.

Having been recognised by The 5% Club as a Gold award winner, adi Group continuously seeks to inspire the next generation of engineers through its apprenticeship offering, pledging to achieve 5% of its workforce in earn and learn positions such as apprenticeships, in a collaborative effort to build and develop a prosperous and cohesive workforce.

With 42 full time apprentices, the Group is now exceeding its own commitments in this vital area. To learn more about adi’s apprenticeship offering, please get in touch.

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