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Why UK business must end its apprenticeships snobbery

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If the buzz around National Apprenticeship Week was anything to go by it looks like we have finally smashed the misconception that vocational training is a second-class option.

To be perfectly honest, it can’t come a moment too soon. But before we pat ourselves on the back too much, there is plenty of work that still needs to be done.

The UK lags behind

The UK has been, and frankly, still is playing catch up when it comes to creating a workforce with contemporary practical skills across a wide range of industries.

Scrolling through social media was an absolute pleasure and gave me immense pride to see so many businesses highlighting the use of apprenticeships to build their future workforces.

There were engineering firms, accountants, retailers, digital firms and, of course, home services companies, which were all showcasing the talented young people they are helping to prepare for long-term, sustainable careers.

Some of these firms, like Pimlico, have been embracing apprenticeships for decades and have seen the benefit of apprentices becoming fully trained employees who not only understand their job, but also the culture of the company. This makes joining the workforce, post-apprenticeship, a seamless experience.

Business can benefit from providing on the job training to apprentices

Other businesses are a lot later to the party, and, in fact, some have not even acknowledged their invitation! Those new to apprenticeships should be welcomed with open arms for joining the vocational training revolution, although it will take some time until they experience the true value of apprentices.

The value for the wider economy

For the firms yet to wake up to the importance of apprenticeships to their businesses and the wider economy it really is time for them to take a long hard look at how they are planning their recruitment.

Currently, businesses are fishing in a rapidly decreasing pond as the skilled people they need just aren’t out there. Proof of this comes from the latest Quarterly Recruitment Outlook compiled by the British Chambers of Commerce.

In the last three months of 2019 more than half of UK businesses (55%) attempted to recruit new people, which is positive. However, a massive 72% of firms reported recruitment difficulties in the quarter.

Most notably the skills shortages were particularly apparent in construction-related sectors, where 79% of firms struggled to recruit, and hospitality, where 77% faced similar challenges.

Charlie Mullins (centre) with his apprentices. HVP Magazine

This demonstrates the skills shortages we employers face. It also shows that the best people are already in good jobs and the only way to tempt them away is with higher wages and incentive packages, which is never good in the long run for businesses or the economy.

Tackling the skills shortage

We have to address these critical skills shortages and apprenticeships have to be at the very heart of how we tackle the problem. National Apprenticeship Week is a great government-led initiative, but, now it’s over, the politicians in power have to step up their game when it comes to ensuring this country has a skilled workforce that can ensure businesses have a feedstock of talent to draw from.

The best opportunity the Government has to do this is in next month’s Budget. The Chancellor has the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to overcoming the skills crisis by pulling out some practical policies from his red briefcase that add some rocket fuel to businesses use of apprenticeships.

This includes a complete overhaul of the Apprenticeship Levy as part of bringing in simpler, common-sense driven funding commitments for vocational training in small and medium-sized firms.

A truly ‘Vocational Budget’ will show that the Government is serious about the delivering on the messages they, and businesses like Pimlico were sharing during National Apprenticeship Week.

It will make sure employers can provide top quality, cost-effective on-the-job training and ultimately create the workforce this country so desperately needs.

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