by Stacey Dingwall
The seventh annual National Apprenticeship week in England and Wales began yesterday, following a successful run in 2013 when over 13,600 new job pledges were announced over the week. The 2014 Week was launched by Matthew Hancock, Minister for Enterprise and Skills, at the BBC’s ‘You’re Hired’ conference in London, where he emphasised the importance of apprenticeships and vocational education in making social mobility a reality.
The overarching theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is ‘Great Apprenticeships’ and is focused on demonstrating the value of apprenticeships for businesses and young people, in terms of creating opportunities. To mark this year’s event, the National Apprenticeship Service has launched a ‘pledgeometer’ for the first time, which allows employers to pledge apprenticeship job vacancies during the week. Among the companies to offer vacancies during the 2013 apprenticeship celebration were Starbucks, who launched their first ever apprenticeship scheme in customer service and barista skills, which continues to run at selected stores across England.
Just before the launch of National Apprenticeship Week 2014, the think tank Demos published a new report ‘Up to the job’, which examines the role of apprenticeships in the UK today. The research makes the case for increasing the number of apprentices by 300,000, arguing that on average, an apprenticeship increases an employee’s productivity by £214 per week, and that raising the number of apprentices by 300,000 would help bridge the gap between Britain and other G20 economies. The report also suggests that England is significantly behind other western economies in terms of apprenticeships, with just 11 per 1,000 employees, in comparison to 39 in Australia, 40 in Germany and 43 in Switzerland. In conclusion, Demos calls for the government to reallocate funding earmarked for the Youth Contract and use it to fund initiatives such as the Creative Employment Programme, which supports employers to take on apprentices by providing part wage grants.
The call to increase the number of apprenticeships was also made by the Sutton Trust in October 2013, with the publication of their ‘Real Apprenticeships’ report, which examined the approach taken to apprenticeships in countries including Germany and Switzerland, and argued that by adopting the German scale of three year apprenticeships, the English economy could be boosted by £8 billion per year, alongside reduced public spending of £2.5 billion, after the initial cost of apprentice wage subsidies. The Boston Consulting authored report also calculates that another 300,000 apprenticeship places in England are needed.
So how likely is it that these extra apprenticeships will be created? New polling data from ICM Research certainly suggests that the future looks bright for aspiring apprentices, with almost half (44%) of the 600 participating employers indicating that they are planning to take on apprentices over the next five years, an increase on the 36% who expressed the same intention a year previously. The poll also suggests that 20% of SMEs are planning to take on at least one apprentice in the next year alone, with 37% of larger companies intending to do the same: increases of 5% and 9% respectively on the previous year. The value of apprentices is clearly recognised by these companies, with 32% of those intending to recruit seeing them as a ‘core’ part of their growth strategy.