How apprenticeships can break down societal barriers to learning

Providing employees the opportunity to study while they work has enormous benefits for employers and staff alike, says Linda Martin

Credit: Nadia Bormotova/iStockphoto/Getty Images

There are so many individuals across the UK who may either already be employed, are currently seeking their next professional challenge, or are on the hunt for their very first role who have something in common. They do not have the resources – be that time or money – to put themselves through training and education to diversify their skillset.

Socioeconomic barriers to learning are affecting more individuals than ever before. The price of living is astronomical, meaning for countless people the weekly shop and energy bills have taken priority over self-improvement and empowering themselves through further education.

Once people leave the full-time education system in the UK, they face the professional world without additional support to boost their qualifications and become an attractive potential candidate for job roles. Not everyone has the means to work for free as an intern, or to undertake enough work experience to build a strong foundation for their CV.

This is where HR departments can help. Thankfully, there are lifelong learning pathways that are available to everyone of all ages, and every socioeconomic standing, proving that training and education is no longer the sole preserve of the classroom and exam hall – or the reserve of those who can fund it privately. 

Apprenticeships are an essential route to learning that break down these socioeconomic barriers. What’s more, apprenticeship courses are more flexible than many people assume. By delivering apprenticeships in the workplace – providing opportunities for both existing employees and new recruits entering the industry – businesses open up scope for vocational learning to these people who may have dismissed their ability to pick up new sector-specific knowledge. 

The crucial element that sets apprenticeships apart from other routes of education is that people are able to work while they learn. Not only does their employer fund their learning, but they are able to practise their newly acquired skills and knowledge in real time, as well as taking home a salary.

For HR managers looking for potential apprentices, the key is to pick up on the potential of existing transferable skills, but also to look at the individual’s willingness to learn and apply themselves to the course structure while working hard for the company.

Thankfully, apprenticeships are also more flexible than many people assume. Apprenticeship standards can adapt quickly to current theory and best practice – regardless of the area of discipline – and the format in which they are delivered in the workplace can respond to a business’s needs and operational cycles.

And the way in which they can be delivered is also flexible, depending on the learner’s individual needs and situation. In order to gain the maximum benefits from flexible learning pathways like apprenticeships, businesses need to overcome a couple of challenges: battling misconceptions and preconceived notions about who the courses are designed for, and in which format they can be delivered to suit both the learner’s and employer’s needs. 

Apprenticeships are not merely the reserve of new starters at companies, but can also be undertaken by existing employees. HR managers may be sitting on a wealth of potential talent they have not yet tapped into, and employees may be more likely to stay in the company if they feel they have the freedom to study and add more skills to their CV while earning money and improving their career progression. 

Linda Martin is managing director of Professional Assessment