Are we experiencing an apprentice revival?

Mark Smith | 25 Mar 2015 | Comments

We recently experienced National Apprentice Week (9-15 March) here in the UK – a significant focus in the calendar of any early careers team and a period of vibrant activity at Atkins. Each year we launch our apprenticeship opportunities to coincide with this event and this year we are looking for over 80 new apprentices to join us in the UK.

In my role as a recruiter, I have noticed changing attitudes towards recruiting apprentices in the early careers market and they lead the way when it comes to looking at how engineering and science industries are going to fill the looming UK skills gaps. So it could be said that we are experiencing an apprentice ‘revival’.

The BBC notes that since 2012 we have seen the government investment in apprenticeships reach £1.6 billion and the number of sectors that are able to offer apprenticeships have increased. In addition, with university fees at an all-time high and increasing living costs, the appeal of ‘earning whilst learning’ can be a real alternative. In fact in the Telegraph’s Top 40 richest former apprentices the majority of these professionals have undertaken an engineering or science apprenticeship.

However, despite increasing popularity and cross party political support the latest government figures suggest that the actual number of 16-19 year olds undertaking apprenticeships has fallen. The recent report[PDF] says: “In 2013-14, 119,760 teenagers were on apprenticeships. That compares with 129,890 in 2010.” Some of this can be attributed to the fact that duration of the apprenticeship scheme needs to be at least 12 months to be included in the latest figures. Yet even with this in mind, the number of apprentices in training is not growing as quickly as we might expect, or need it to, in order to meet the growing demand for skills in our sectors.

Overall, it’s clear to me that the increase in the prominence of apprenticeships is not insignificant and we are experiencing a ‘revival’ of sorts in this career path. They provide an alternative route to studying at university and offer young people opportunities to experience the engineering and science sectors first hand whilst they continue to learn new key skills. Despite this it seems that apprenticeships still have some way to go, as there is still a need to increase their appeal to 16-19 year olds. To boost growth, I believe it’s important for the industries involved to continue to offer a wide range of apprenticeship opportunities within the engineering and science sectors, work closely with colleges and learning providers and ensure that the training available is relevant and of a high quality.