Since 2010 just under 2.5million people have started an apprenticeship– enough to fill Wembley Stadium thirty times over. Whether in engineering, manufacturing, or health and social care, apprenticeships are vital to business, and to our economy. National Apprenticeship Week is a fantastic moment to celebrate the importance of apprenticeships. So to mark the week, the Great Business Debate have been showcasing examples of how business is investing in apprenticeships, and the impact this investment is having on those apprentices.
Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon to change the world. Apprenticeships may not have quite achieved that yet, but they have certainly transformed lives. I passionately believe that every child deserves an opportunity to succeed in life. And last year 126,000 people under the age of 19 started an apprenticeship. For many it will represent their first step into the world of work, while for those over 19 they can open up new routes to careers. By combining real, salaried employment with on the job training, quality apprenticeships offer people a great route to a good career.
Increasingly though business is having to think again about the type of skills they need. The world has a changed dramatically as a result of technology, and so too have the skills that businesses now need. To understand this impact we only need to look at the skills shortage in digital, languages, or in STEM which extends to every entry level, including apprentices. There is little doubt that if business is to meet this skills challenge, apprenticeships will have a vital role to play.
Investing in people and skills is good for business, and it is what business has to do to keep pace with the changing world. Fortunately business is already doing just that. Last year business invested £45.4bn on workplace training and provided 118million training days, while this year 85% of businesses plan to maintain or increase their investment in training and development. Businesses like Goldman Sachs who this January launched their ‘Degree Apprenticeship Programme’, allowing participants to complete an apprenticeship with Goldman Sachs’ technology division, whilst studying for a degree at Queen Mary University. PwC have developed a Professional Services Higher Apprenticeship to help a wider group of recruits gain access to professional services. And last year over 75% of the young people employed on the Barclay’s apprenticeship programme-now considered huge assets to the business-were previously long term unemployed. Just to choose three examples from many employers across the economy.
It is business’ commitment to training and skills in the workforce which is why employers are so concerned about the new apprenticeship levy. Business and government agree on the need to increase apprentice numbers, but not at the expense of quality provision. Investing in training is part of their business plans, so it’s not the cost overall, but the fact that the levy as currently envisaged makes taking on apprentices more expensive and could also negatively impact many innovative, quality training programmes that support people to begin careers and to progress. Worryingly, some businesses are being forced to reduce their apprentice numbers because of the levy; a decision that no business wants to make.
We all need to work on the details of the policy to ensure that it can actually works to create more opportunities – not reduce them. Ultimately, that is the test for any apprenticeship, for businesses and should be the test for the government. So in National Apprenticeship Week as we celebrate the good stories of what’s going on, business will also be working hard on what’s next and how to give the levy, their apprentices and their businesses the best chance of success.