Apprenticeship system needs to be simpler for skills agenda to succeed

As National Apprenticeship Week begins, Peter Winebloom, director of apprentices and skills at manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, examines why business needs to take them seriously.

Peter Winebloom

National Apprenticeship Week is a good opportunity to raise awareness of apprenticeships in business but we must also use it to encourage more young people to consider a career in industry, so that they can see the link between the exciting technologies and products that surround us every day and the means by which these goods are created.

Manufacturing accounts for more than its fair share of apprentices, with around one in eight of them employed in this sector. The apprenticeship is a tried and tested model, familiar to employers and widely respected in the country at large.

It is fitting then that research from the Apprenticeship Ambassadors’ Network shows that the benefits of taking on apprentices are wide-ranging, from staff retention and reduced recruitment costs through to higher levels of productivity and competitiveness.

The value of apprenticeships has not gone unnoticed in government. Indeed, apprenticeship programmes are one of the few areas of government policy that consistently command strong cross-party support.

Additional resources will be targeted towards growing apprentice numbers in the coming years, with John Hayes, the minster for skills, recently saying that he has ambitions for apprenticeships in the UK to top 350,000 during his term.

This is a welcome commitment, but, as yet, it remains a work in progress and apprenticeships are not the only aspect of the Government’s skills agenda that still needs attention.

For apprenticeships to have the best chance of success we need the system to be simple, not for the sake of organisational tidiness, but because it needs to be efficient to ensure support is going where it can do most good.

National apprenticeship week (7-11 February) is a good time to put the spotlight on the talented and passionate young people across the UK who are taking advantage of apprenticeships and developing high-level technical and leadership skills.

The recent EEF Future Manufacturing Awards recognised the outstanding achievement of Alan Maguire of defence and security company BAE Systems and Mark Empson of aerospace and defence firm Cobham.

Their stories are exceptional, but not unusual, because right across the UK there are young people working hard to build a career in engineering and manufacturing, playing their part in helping employers develop the highly skilled workforce that we will increasingly require.

The UK needs to take the development of skills seriously. This will go a long way towards ensuring that we build a more balanced economy less reliant on financial services and one in which hard working apprentices are valued for life, not just for this one week.

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