From education to employment

UK General Election Day offers chance for improvements in the apprenticeship sector 

Voting Ballot Box

With the announcement of the UK General Election taking place on 4th July, Jonathan Fitchew, CEO of digital apprenticeship provider Apprentify(@ApprentifyUK), calls on politicians to tackle long standing challenges with the way training courses are facilitated 

We all knew the General Election was coming this year, but it came as a collective surprise when the Prime Minister brought it forward to 4th July. This leaves little time for competing political parties to prepare their manifestos and run effective campaigns. 

One area that the electorate will be paying close attention to is the state of education, specifically the role that vocational education plays in preparing students for employment. Apprenticeships have long fulfilled this function, but in the lead up to the General Election, how the political parties approach the topic of training programmes will influence how they are perceived by the public. Currently, there are many challenges affecting the industry, and we will explore how the competing political parties can approach these challenges. 

Addressing the Skills Gap 

The UK is currently facing a skills shortage and a productivity problem, with the UK government’s Employer Skills Survey confirming the number of skills-shortage vacancies to have more than doubled from 226,500 to 531,200 between 2017-2022. 

There is great political scope here as training courses can help employers and the government reduce the skills gap by offering in-depth training and practical experience to those looking to start their career in a specific industry. With a changing job market that is becoming even more diversified, it is key that training programmes stay up to date with these changes. Political parties need to keep up with the turbulent landscape and identify what skills are in hot demand to enhance the quality of training programmes and in the process, mitigate skills shortages. 

Tackling Low Completion Rates 

Another area that political parties need to focus on is the high dropout rate. Research commissioned by the Liberal Democrat Party confirmed that 52% of training programmes in health and social care ended in a dropout, with a 35% dropout rate in manufacturing and an incredible 76% for medicine and dentistry roles.  

Promising more training courses will not necessarily enhance the quality of courses provided. Political parties need to be focusing on qualitative changes, despite an increase in training courses being a positive. 

Historically, apprenticeships have been perceived as a one-size-fits-all qualification. However, this approach doesn’t take into consideration the specific needs of businesses or the personal ambitions of individuals, which may explain the high dropout rates. The political parties should take note of this and ensure that support mechanisms are in place to help guide apprentices over the course of their training. 

Accessibility of Apprenticeships 

An issue that often goes unnoticed is accessibility. There are many barriers that prevent people from upskilling, whether that be lack of financial support, work commitments or absent mentorship. 

Political parties need to seize the opportunity and ensure that a wider demographic has access to training courses. They can do this by collaborating with schools and training providers, introducing grants and subsidies to cover the costs of those who need it most. 

There should also be a concerted effort by the political parties to address the stereotype that apprenticeships are exclusively for young people by encouraging an uptake in senior professional admissions. According to the Apprenticeship Statistics for England, 48% of the training courses started in 2022/23 were by people aged 25 and over, demonstrating that there is a pool of applicants in the older age categories that could benefit from training courses. 

The Need for Change 

The UK economy is in a rut of slow growth. Training programmes and apprenticeships offer an olive branch to get people into the workplace and receive specialist qualifications. However, politicians need to understand that the structure needs refining to deliver a better quality of training to apprentices. 

The approach of political parties needs to extend beyond more investment and more training programmes. Instead, there should be a focus on introducing effective support mechanisms to provide apprentices with a seamless transition from education to the workplace. To fulfil meaningful change, it is imperative that the political parties vying for power co-ordinate their efforts with employers to ensure that apprentices are provided with the tools and training required to perform in a specific role. If political parties demonstrate to voters that they are committed to improving completion rates and making apprenticeships more accessible, they will be best positioned to get voters on board. 

By Jonathan Fitchew, CEO of digital apprenticeship provider Apprentify

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