Policies In The UK Help Employers Bring On Skilled Apprentices

Female Apprentice Working With Engineer On CNC Machinery

In 2015 the UK Government committed to providing 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020, both as a means of tackling youth unemployment and of addressing wider skills shortages.

This emphasis on giving young people more opportunities to gain the skills employers need is welcomed, as youth unemployment remains much higher than that of the general population. Currently, 13.7 per cent of 16-24 year olds are unemployed compared to 5.1 per cent for all UK residents over 16. But some have raised concerns about how this number of apprenticeships will be generated and how to ensure they are of good quality.

As shown in a recent Centre for Cities report, there are 8 core challenges to delivering apprenticeships in the UK (Figure 1). This includes the challenge of encouraging employers to take on an apprentice. Despite employers in the UK becoming more involved in developing apprenticeship programmes, the number of people wanting to do an apprenticeship still outweighs the number of opportunities available. Data from the Skills Funding Agency shows there are more than eight applications for every apprenticeship.

In part, this is linked to outdated perceptions of what an apprenticeship consists of and a belief that academic qualifications are a better indication of ability. Many employers have a preference for University graduates and express uncertainty over how an apprentice would fit into and benefit their business.

Apprenticeships grafic-01However, there is much employers and other organisations can do to shift this perception and increase the recruitment of apprentices, including:

1) Targeted marketing campaigns

Targeted large scale marketing campaigns, such as the London Apprenticeship Campaign, have been successful in increasing awareness of apprenticeships among employers. This initiative included a Mayoral Employer Letter and Engagement Campaign, whereby letters signed by the Mayor of London were sent out to the CEOs of large companies known not to offer apprenticeships. The campaign was linked to an increase in apprenticeships starts across London over 2009-10, leading to a higher target for apprenticeships starts in London being set.

The Plymouth Apprenticeship Managers Network also works to promote the benefits of apprenticeships to employers but uses other employers to do so. Formed of local businesses that offer apprenticeships, the network organises dinners to which current members invite businesses that do not offer apprenticeships. The apprenticeship system and its benefits are explained and if a firm decides to take on an apprentice, it can become part of the network, benefiting from further help and support in navigating the apprenticeship process.

2) Providing recruitment services

Local schemes have also been developed to overcome some of the more practical barriers of taking on an apprentice, such as the administrative and HR functions. In Glasgow, the City Council offers a service called the Glasgow Guarantee, which takes responsibility for recruiting apprentices for employers. The service advertises vacancies for employers and even shortlists candidates if a firm requests this. The service also handles feedback to unsuccessful applicants. The city found that this approach was particularly welcomed by small and medium sized firms, which lacked their own specific recruitment team and didn’t feel they had the resources to offer an apprenticeship.

3) Linking up employers and training providers

Employers often do not know which training provider best meets their needs, or even what training providers are available locally. To overcome this, the Humber region piloted an Apprenticeship Support Service (HASS). This service connects employers, training providers, and those looking to do an apprenticeship by making use of established relationships the Local Economic Partnership (LEP) has with employers, schools, colleges and Hull University. HASS works with employers to identify what they are looking for in an apprentice and provides them with the information and support required. This includes information on how the apprenticeship system works and the types of training frameworks available, as well as providing work readiness training for apprentices. In the first 5 months of the scheme, HASS engaged 338 businesses and delivered 33 apprenticeship starts. By January 2016, that number had increased to 167 apprenticeship starts. Due to its success, a second phase of the programme is currently in development.

Hosting apprentices offer many benefits to employers, including the chance to work in close collaboration with training providers to design the apprenticeship. This helps ensure individuals develop the knowledge and skills needed by the firm, reducing skills mismatch. The above examples show that while apprenticeship policy is nationally led, local schemes can play an important part in overcoming the shortcomings of the system and increasing the number of apprenticeships available.


The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.


Government/Policy, Partnerships, Workforce Development,
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