From education to employment

The rise of the ‘professional apprentice’: How apprenticeships are filling skills gaps

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Apprenticeships were once associated with the likes of mechanics, construction and even hairdressing, but now they are moving into more white-collar domains as a growing number of professional sectors are starting to harness the power of apprentices to fill in vital skills gaps.

The British government is attempting to combat skills shortages and boost both UK business and the economy by encouraging employers to develop new apprenticeship standards that benefit both employers and employees across more sectors than ever before.

Skills shortages solved by new apprenticeship strategy

The problem of skills shortages in the UK has previously been solved by businesses being able to hire EU nationals to plug the gaps. But now with Brexit looking to restrict the freedom of movement of these potential employees from across Europe, the government is seeking to encourage employers to develop new apprenticeship standards to boost the skills of employees from within the UK.

These apprenticeships are also intended to compensate for any dissonance between the UK’s educational systems and the intended career paths of younger generations and anyone else seeking to work in industries that often value experience and job-specific skills over college or university qualifications.

The government is referring to employers who take on these apprentices as ‘trailblazers’, with these businesses charged with developing new training methods to develop the knowledge and skills of the apprentices they employ. This new strategy should see the skills shortage problem solved by the companies themselves as they train apprentices to fill those same skills gaps.

The ‘trailblazer’ employers themselves have responded positively to the government’s call, citing the fact that apprentices usually improve the organisational performance and productivity of businesses in the long term.

New apprenticeships across a wide variety of sectors

While traditional blue-collar apprenticeships remain popular, it is the increase of white-collar apprenticeships which will be most encouraging for the UK economy in the wake of Brexit. Between 2009 and 2016, for example, apprenticeships in business, administration and law rose from approximately 77,000 nationwide to 143,000.

Another white-collar sector seeing significant increases in the amounts of apprenticeships being offered is the technology industry, which is particularly important as it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK.

The Open University is another organisation offering a range of apprenticeships and their Director of Corporate Sales, David Willett, spoke to the Guardian newspaper about some of the big businesses and global brands which are beginning to value apprenticeships. Mr Willet said:

“The perception of an apprentice is unfortunately usually someone in a hard hat on a construction site. But that perception is changing as big employers such as Unilever and IBM begin to invest in apprenticeships to develop the talent and skills they need to achieve their business goals.”

What employees gain from apprenticeships

The benefits for employers are clear in that they are able to train and mould someone into their ideal employee in term of their skill sets, but there are also many benefits for the apprentice themselves. Firstly, apprenticeships are a great way of gaining the requisite experience needed to advance a career, and even acquire specific qualifications. These qualifications will usually be nationally recognised ones that require training that might not be possible without taking an apprenticeship.

An apprentice will also learn practical and job-specific skills by working alongside more experienced members of staff. In exchange for the experience and skills, the salaries of apprentices are usually not particularly high, with some earning the current minimum wage of £3.50 per hour. However, many apprentices do actually earn significantly more depending on the sector they are employed in.

Hadyn Luke, Director of CMS Vocational Training (CMSVOC).

About CMSVOC: CMSVOC offers a vast range of courses and training programmes across diverse sectors. CMSVOC is committed to helping people of all ages, backgrounds and industries, find the right course and training programme so they can progress in their chosen career or embark on a new career.

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