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Growing your own talent: Diversifying your workforce through apprenticeships

Growing your own talent: Diversifying your workforce through apprenticeships

Traditionally, apprenticeships have been viewed as a career-starter for vocational pathways, undertaken by school leavers as a route to employment. The apprenticeship system has made much progress in recent years, becoming a more inclusive route for people of all ages, backgrounds, and education levels, encouraging them to ‘earn while they learn’.

The Richard Review, published a decade ago, made waves by encouraging employers to create opportunities that provided ‘substantial training and high levels of skill’ – and although this has been taken on-board by many sectors, more can be done.

Many employers operating outside of the conventional apprenticeship subject areas – which in Oxfordshire predominantly includes business and administration, engineering and manufacturing, and healthcare (Oxfordshire Local Skills Dashboard 2021/22) – often do not consider apprenticeships as a suitable fit for their businesses; especially SMEs and particularly Micro employers (1-9 employees).

While the range of apprenticeships on offer is increasing, along with the diversity of roles within these programmes, more needs to be done to reassure employers of the added value apprenticeship schemes can deliver for their business.

At OxLEP Skills, we are passionate advocates for apprenticeships, supporting businesses irrespective of sector, apprentice age or career stage. Apprenticeships offer a fantastic way for employers to grow a highly skilled workforce, with skillsets tailored to their specific needs and roles.

By creating an inclusive apprenticeship programme which is diverse in terms of the roles and responsibilities it offers, employers can develop a workforce tailored to their business needs and add another means to business growth. Schemes might also include opportunities for personal development, such as training and accreditations, and the opportunity to acquire a range of different skills.

Apprenticeships can also support employers in filling skills gaps, by ensuring that new employees are gaining a range of skills across disciplines. By giving apprentices more opportunities and treating them as equals to other members of staff, they are more likely to remain at the company post-apprenticeship completion. This ultimately increases the business’ retention rate and creating a satisfied workforce that is loyal and highly skilled.

Growing your own talent through apprenticeships is the key to future proofing business. By building and upskilling the existing workforce, equipping it with skills in specialist roles where the pipeline of available talent is sparse could prevent organisations from having to hire new and less experienced team members further down the line.

Engaging the workforce in training early on in their careers also encourages their growth into more senior positions, ensuring that senior leadership is equipped with the skills both to lead and for the job by the time they reach this level.

It is also evident that apprenticeships can supplement organisations diversity and inclusion – with little previous experience required to apply for an apprenticeship, they are easily accessible to people of all backgrounds. Although many apprentices enter the workforce aged 16, there usually is not an age restriction or limit. This gives employers the opportunity to retain talent for longer, by offering staff a role change or upskilling within their organisation.

We support businesses to open the door to the opportunities apprenticeships can unlock – helping not only apprentices by helping more workers to unlock their own potential, but also supporting employers to reap the benefits of a diverse and skilled workforce.

To enable more employers in Oxfordshire to benefit from apprenticeships, OxLEP Skills’ Social Contract Programme is a £1.7 million initiative that helps companies tap into their apprenticeship levy and bring new talent into the workforce through training and assessment.

The programme has already unlocked £750,000 of apprenticeship levy across the county, enabling the creation of new roles in healthcare, education, and professional services to boost skills and drive economic growth. We encourage small businesses to get involved and find out how the apprenticeship levy donated from large organisations could support them by filling skills shortages and build talent pipelines within their organisation.

The diversity of opportunities that can be unlocked through apprenticeships is highlighted by the quality of the finalists for the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards 2023 – taking place this Thursday (18 May) and run by OxLEP Skills.

Supporting talent from across the county, the awards will shine a light on the variety of different apprenticeship schemes, each in their own way supporting people to develop their own career pathways. Those shortlisted range from a Healthcare Support Worker Apprentice to a HR Coordinator, to an Architectural Apprentice – making it clear that apprenticeships are an option no matter your interests or level of ability.

For organisations looking to diversify their workforce and create dynamic leaders of the future, we are here to offer support and guidance, to set you on the right path.

To find out how your business could benefit through the Social Contract Programme, visit:

By Sally Andreou, the Skills Hub Manager at OxLEP Skills

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