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National Apprenticeship Week 2019

Reimagining apprenticeships: New pathways to work for future generations


Julian David

CEO, techUK

When you imagine an apprentice, who do you think of? 

For most of us, the immediate image that might spring to mind is that of a 16-year-old student who has just completed their GCSEs and is looking to get hands-on experience and learn a trade, perhaps a traditional trade in construction or plumbing. Certainly, those individuals do exist – but it isn’t the full picture. 

Apprenticeships aren’t limited to trade 

Apprenticeships have gone through a revival and now can be found in almost every sector and are of incredible value to employers and apprentices alike.  

For employers, apprenticeship training is a valuable opportunity to reskill existing staff or upskill new recruits, providing them with a recognised qualification at the end of practical, on-the-job learning. 

Some apprenticeships are equal to a Master’s degree

Apprenticeships can provide both breadth and depth to upskilling. We often think of apprentices learning entry-level skills where, in reality, courses can span from Level 2 – equivalent to a GCSE – through to Level 7 – equivalent to a Master’s degree. Once we recognise this, apprenticeships look even more attractive.

Apprenticeship levy money is an untapped resource for businesses

What’s more, for many employers, the money raised from the apprenticeship levy is an untapped resource. The Open University found, in April 2018 that, of the £1.39 billion raised in England by the levy, only £108 million (8%) was withdrawn for apprenticeship training. 

There is definitely space for industry to get smarter about how it spends its levy funds – for example, by upskilling their staff through apprenticeships. But it is also clear that government could do more to ensure the money can be spent training up Britain.  

Our national curriculum needs to evolve to keep up with 4IR

Looking ahead, apprenticeships will form a vital part of our ability as a country to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. techUK’s survey of parents working in tech[, found that there is an overwhelming need to rebalance the national curriculum to focus on nurturing ‘soft skills’ and competencies moving away from a focus on knowledge-based, rote learning. 

What will be truly valuable in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be learning that focuses on application to real-world scenarios, problem-solving and team work. An apprenticeship does just that – it focuses on real-world application and goes beyond other pathways. Rather than putting emphasis on an individual’s ability to retain information, an apprenticeship focuses on their ability to apply that information to problems.

Apprenticeships can be more financially attractive than uni

Looking at the pipeline of talent in the UK, apprenticeships are an opportunity to showcase all the pathways available into higher education for those who have not previously considered further study. This is of particular importance in the technology industry, where diversity is business critical if we are to provide innovative products. Apprenticeships can encourage those who were discouraged by the costs associated with university and higher education. As these individuals enter into the tech sector, they bring with them new ideas and approaches which disrupt the status quo and, in doing so, breed innovation.

Employers need to be open-minded

While training young people is invaluable – and there is, of course, no denying this – employers should look beyond their preconceptions of apprentices and consider whether there is an ability in their organisation to reskill or upskill existing staff through apprenticeship programmes. Has a vacancy been open for a few too many months now? Are you struggling to find applicants who have the skills necessary? Or, do you want to be seen as an employer who invests in its staff’s futures? If you have answered yes to any of these, perhaps it’s time to consider an apprenticeship scheme.

Preparing for change: How tech parents view education and the future of work

February 2019

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