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Will Apprenticeships Mend Our Fractured Economy?

HandshakeThis week saw the publication of the Adonis Review, ‘Mending the Fractured Economy’. The review identified skills shortages as a significant barrier to growth and made recommendations for addressing that shortage. Adonis identified the greatest skills shortages in technical subjects, highlighting a lack of quality vocational training and careers advice as the cause. He sees apprenticeships as the solution and the resulting government initiatives will create new challenges for personnel managers.

The review recommends increasing the number of high quality apprenticeships for young people and trebling the number of STEM youth apprenticeships by 2020. This is a big ask, for though some sectors make good use of apprentices, the majority do not.

In fact, just 5% of science and technology firms have apprentices, in spite of the skills shortage in the sector. Firms cite expense, increased burden on supervisory staff and difficulty recruiting apprentices as the reasons for their reluctance. Managers are afraid of the potential disruption caused by employing young, unqualified staff.

Adonis highlighted the reluctance of government to practise what it preached. The public sector, NHS and local government are under particular pressure from government to lead by example and embrace apprenticeships, but so far the uptake has been poor.

So what is the solution? L&D professionals know that hiring an apprentice makes economic sense; research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills suggests increased productivity of £214 per week. This benefit needs to be communicated to managers and in turn, a strategy put in place to educate existing staff so they know how to get the most from the experience of taking on young apprentices, and manage the situation effectively.

The disruption should be planned for and tackled in the same way as with any significant cultural or procedural change in a business. Many organisations look after their apprentices really well, they know how to ‘on board’ them, look after their welfare and support them in achieving their workplace accreditations. However, quite often this is centralised and the day-to-day support, supervision and motivation of that apprentice is left to their line manager, who has not really considered how different it is to manage an apprentice. L&D departments will need to seriously consider how their L&D offerings support and equip managers in readiness for the ‘patter of tiny feet’.

Given that the skills shortages are increasing as existing technical staff rapidly approach retirement, the forecasted threefold increase in young apprentices in the next few years could see a dramatic change to the personality of your business and the expectations you have of your managers. Are you ready?

To find out more about the L&D implications for managers who take on an apprentice, contact us.

Catherine Sellars

Catherine Sellars, Editor

Supporting innovation in teaching and learning

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