Apprenticeships can widen participation in the workforce, improve retention and upskill existing workers, yet many employers are struggling to unlock their full potential. Employers need to build clear and visible career pathways to maximise the benefits of apprenticeships, argues Phil Whitehouse.
Employers in most sectors are facing an increasingly competitive job market where there are more vacancies to fill than the current number of people looking for work. Companies are struggling to attract and retain talent, and this is particularly evident in the booming last-mile delivery sector.
Looking specifically at entry level last-mile roles, including couriers, sortation operatives, warehouse operatives and order pickers, data from Jobfeed by Textkernel tracks a 171.74% increase in jobs advertised from Q1 2019 (9,342) to Q1 2022 (25,386).
Nationwide research commissioned by Lifetime Training in March 2022, found that for 46% of the British public good training and skills and career progression were important factors when considering a new job role.
For sectors such as last-mile delivery, where there is a perceived lack of opportunity for career development and a scarcity of available high-quality training, this presents a key barrier to recruitment and retention.
How can employers use apprenticeships to build career pathways?
The answer is to provide better defined career pathways. There are a number of ways to do this, but there is one ready solution that is both underused and misunderstood. Apprenticeships have long been positioned as a “first step” for young people starting out in their career, but they are actually designed as a foundation for ongoing career progression which can provide future opportunities for workers of all ages. Here are a few approaches employers can take:
Embed apprenticeships into workforce growth strategy
By offering a clear progression route with training programmes at all levels, organisations can create a more defined talent pipeline for their workforce. This can be achieved by embedding apprenticeship programmes into a long-term strategy on workforce growth and skills development.
If we look at logistics warehouse and distribution roles, analysis by CV Library highlights it’s one of the least competitive sectors, with an average of just seven applicants per role. This highlights the lack of visibility and awareness of the differing roles and apprenticeships available in modern warehouse and distribution centres, which includes express drivers, sortation, and warehouse operatives. There is also the opportunity to progress into supervisor and management programmes, as well as specialist programmes such as those in data analytics and project management.
For an increasing number of young people, working in a job with purpose or in a green, sustainable sector is a key consideration when they’re considering their career pathway”
Apprenticeship programmes have enabled Howdens, a leading UK trade kitchen supplier, to define its pipeline for future management. Four out of five apprentices at Howdens stay on within the businesses after they’ve completed their course, with the overall retention rate of in-depot apprentices who continue their careers with Howdens increasing from 37% in 2009 to 73% in 2021. The company has now seen more than 80 apprentices moving into assistant depot manager roles having started their careers at Howdens on an apprenticeship programme.
Aldi has also benefited from investing in its apprentices and has used its apprenticeship programmes to identify and support new diverse talent to achieve future growth plans. Its apprenticeship programmes offer in-depth training and support with real qualifications, allowing recruits to launch a career in store operations, logistics or driving.
Create visible and meaningful pathways
In order for an apprenticeship to be seen as a foundation for ongoing career progression, it’s important that employees can see how they can progress in an organisation and the future opportunities available to them.
Recent research from the Institute of Employment Studies (IES) reveals that two-thirds of young people have been struggling to find meaningful work since the pandemic. For an increasing number of young people, working in a job with purpose or in a green, sustainable sector is a key consideration when they’re considering their career pathway.
The same study found that young people also expressed an interest in learning about vocational routes into employment, with two in five (42%) citing apprenticeships and a third (33 per cent) citing traineeships as being “very useful” for securing work.
This highlights an appetite for work that provides a sense of purpose and an awareness that apprenticeships can open up career opportunities. In the last mile, for example, the purpose in an entry-level warehouse operative or courier role may not appear to be about contributing to sustainability, yet this is a crucial issue for the sector – and training is key to develop a more sustainability aware workforce. Improved training can help educate learners on better sustainable practices, such as reducing waste, fuel efficient driving and more effective route planning.
The purpose in an entry-level warehouse operative or courier role may not appear to be about contributing to sustainability, yet this is a crucial issue for the sector”
Address attitudes towards apprenticeships
It is also important to address out of date attitudes towards apprenticeships. In the same way that apprenticeships have been positioned as a first step, they’ve also been seen as a route for school leavers or those entering the workforce. However, they are an important pathway for workers who are looking for opportunities for career progression. The need to provide adult learners with ongoing training opportunities has been highlighted by the government’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee, which is part of the National Skills Fund, and helps adults develop their job prospects by gaining in-demand skills.
There is also a misconception that apprenticeships in the last mile sector are not the right route to the training required as workers don’t want to spend time sitting in classrooms. In reality, apprenticeship programmes in the sector are a combination of one-to-one and blended delivery via immersive online learning, face-to-face or virtual sessions with a coach. This approach enables flexible training that can be tailored around the learner and their working patterns.
Furthermore, employers have been reluctant to invest time and resources in training when they don’t expect apprentices to stay on in the business. Employers who can use apprenticeships to nurture in-house talent can benefit from increased retention and a reputation as an employer that invests in people.
A competitive advantage
Apprenticeships can provide a solution to many of the challenges currently facing employers. There is a real opportunity for employers to benefit from the full potential of apprenticeships by building visible and meaningful career pathways for both new and existing workers. Those that can do this will find that they gain a competitive edge for attracting talent and higher retention from a clearly defined talent pipeline.