why apprenticeships matter

The value of apprenticeships in helping to unlock the productivity growth that is this country’s long-term path to greater prosperity, has been a subject of much discussion. More recently, this subject has come under the spotlight once again. Here we take a look at why apprenticeships matter.

A newspaper article by James Kirkup, the Director of the Social Market Foundation last week argued that apprenticeships have often suffered from the curse of middle-class snobbery. To a political class dominated by graduates, apprenticeships have often been seen as something ‘for other people’.

However, if we are to stand any chance of becoming a high-value, high wage economy post-Brexit, the country needs better skills and training, which should mean a bigger, more structured further education sector. Research now suggests that more and more parents of aspiring university graduates are discovering that a good apprenticeship with a big, successful firm is a better and, dare one say, cheaper route to career success than a middling degree.

How Covid-19 has affected apprenticeships

This issue has been thrown into even sharper focus following the unprecedented economic and social upheavals of the last 12 months. A better funded apprenticeship sector should also be central to training and re-training people whose careers have been thrown into uncertainty by Covid-19.

Over the coming months, we may well see half of the UK’s 34 million workers make significant changes to their careers as the full impact of the virus on the workplace becomes clear.

The Engineering & Construction industry is a good example of an industry that currently faces a severe skill-based deficit, leading to talent shortages within the UK workforce. Research predicts an acute shortage of STEM subject teachers in secondary and further education with 75% of college principals ranking engineering as the most difficult subject to recruit qualified staff for. The COVID pandemic has exacerbated the situation with apprenticeships falling sharply during 2020.  

What’s does the future hold for apprenticeships?

A recent report found that 91% of organizations in the UK struggled to recruit the appropriate people leading to a direct cost to industry of £6.3bn a year.

On a social level too, a better deal for apprenticeships must be the correct approach. If the ‘’ levelling up’ ’mantra is to mean anything, it must mean that cities like Hartlepool, for example (where only 12% of the city’s children go University, compared to nearly 20% for the country as a whole), receive more respect, funding, and support for its local colleges.

Social mobility should not necessarily mean geographical mobility, a trend which over many years has seen young people forced to move to the big cities to climb the career ladder. More funding for the regions and the further education colleges in those regions should enable far sighted local employers to recognise the benefits to themselves, as well as to society of bigger, better apprenticeship schemes and the ability of being able to recruit from a more diverse talent pool.

All of this, of course, is not to criticise the value of the University experience, which to many people is still seen as a unique rite of passage, one which creates a solid foundation on which to build a rewarding life and career and a place where lifelong friendships and social skills are established.

However, our cultural bias towards universities has for too long led to neglect for technical and vocational education. With the challenges the country now faces, what we now need is a paradigm shift that rebalances the respective roles and values of apprenticeships and universities.

This will not only require a cultural reassessment across society, but an acknowledgment that by doing so, we will be able to create a more productive economy and a fairer society in our post-COVID world.