Apprenticeships not a corporate social responsibility, but at the heart of businesses

Ten small independent companies varying from bridal companies to ground maintenance were spread across the room, serving as inspiration to guests, while apprenticeship ambassador for parliament Andrew Jones and skills minister Nick Boles among speakers.

Jones opened and said: “National Apprenticeship Week gets bigger and better every year, and I think it’s evidence of how much progress we’ve made during this parliament. It reflects the need for skills within our workforce and how apprenticeships are seen as the vehicle to deliver those.

“We’ve now reached a point where political parties are competing with how strongly they can back apprenticeships and this was not even considered five years ago, so our whole agenda on apprenticeships has changed for the better.”

Indeed, it was revealed in December 2014 that two million apprentices have been taken on during the Conservative leadership – equivalent to enough people to fill 25 Olympic stadiums. 

In addition to such a key development and change to progress, Jones revealed that in the beginning he was often finding himself talking to corporate social responsibility departments in big enterprises, explaining that “it’s not a corporate social responsibility at all – apprenticeships are at the heart to make sure there is talent in the business to grow the business.”

While ground has been made on the ambitious plans to support the country’s young talent, changes still need to be made to support mass adoption, as Jones revealed “there are far more companies that have not started an apprenticeship than have, and that’s particularly true in the SME sector.”

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Boles drew upon his experience at London-based augmented reality company Holition, which hired Thomas Monkman following an 18-month apprenticeship during which he was trained how to develop, programme and eventually carry his own projects.

“I’m learning the extraordinary range of businesses that are using and employing apprentices, but more than that, how much you get from an apprenticeship – the range of skills you get and how challenging they are,” he said, rubbishing the idea that it’s a form of entry-level education and inferior to university degrees, calling the notion “very far from the truth.”

“I look at someone like Thomas and think there’s a young man with the whole world at his feet and the whole future of technological change for him to take advantage of. I look at the other young people in this room and small businesses that have taken a risk and made an investment to say ‘we believe in the future, and we’re going to make an investment in young people that are going to be with us in that future.’”

The skills minister added that while the 2m apprenticeship milestone may have been reached, there are further goals in sight.

“We will not be able to reach our target, as a Conservative party, of three million apprenticeships in the next parliament if we rely on those companies that currently employ apprentices. About 14 per cent of all employers in the UK employ apprentices – we need to get that figure up.

“One thing I’ve realised in the past ten months is I’ve never met a business that’s said ‘we started doing apprenticeships, but they didn’t work out for us and we stopped’. Once you’ve got over that hump, you never look back. You suddenly integrate this in the whole way you run your business and cannot imagine running your business in any other way.”

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