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The importance of apprenticeships to the UK’s long-term recovery

27 Jul 2020 By Justine Campbell and Laura Keen

Upskilling young people will be key as businesses emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, say Justine Campbell and Laura Kee

On 8 July the government announced new apprenticeship support funding for employers, marking a significant commitment to getting more young people into employment at a difficult time for the UK’s job market. This will be vital for the country’s long-term recovery from Covid-19.

We need to ensure the training and development of the UK’s young talent doesn’t stall as the country recovers from the pandemic, and that employers are taking action to support the future workforce where possible. Apprenticeship programmes are an important part of this, providing a learning structure and valuable work experience that can help nurture skills and foster future business leaders.

Given the current uncertainty and the challenges many organisations are facing, the financial support announced by the chancellor may provide fresh impetus to some companies to implement apprenticeship programmes, boost the skills in their workforce and provide entry-level access across different industries.

As organisations focus efforts on planning and recovery post crisis, what do employers looking to leverage this valuable talent pool need to consider?

At EY, there is no doubt that apprentices help to shape our business and the future skills we will need. This year we are seeking to recruit 1,037 students, of which 730 will be on our apprenticeship programmes. We see apprentices as our future leaders and have maintained our focus on the programmes we offer, with an adjustment to virtual learning and development during this time of remote working.

In addition to enhancing the employability of young talent, the business benefit of apprenticeship schemes is clear: they provide a sustained home-grown workforce. Joining a business right at the start of an individual’s career tends to mean they are more likely to stay for the long-term, often moving to different roles within the same company. Additionally, on and off-the-job learning, development of industry specific and transferable skills and behaviours, and achieving a recognised accreditation at the end of the apprenticeship, means talented recruits are trained in areas that will ultimately be beneficial to the business.

For employers considering apprenticeships, the crucial question they should be asking is: ‘What skills do we need to build within our workforce that we don’t have currently, but will need in the next few years?’ There is an opportunity for businesses to get ahead of the curve by offering different programmes that diversify, upskill and strengthen the capabilities of their employees in strategic areas. For example, this could include developments that are already causing or are expected to cause disruption, such as technological advances that are seeing a growing need for data and digital skills.

In practice, making sure apprenticeship schemes are established properly is crucial to their success and therefore take time to set up. Businesses need to identify programmes that align to their strategy and which have commercial value, while also taking key steps such as finding the right training provider. We may therefore see a gradual increase in the number of organisations offering new apprenticeship programmes as a result of the recent incentives announced.

Before Covid-19, many organisations were already navigating an abundance of changes to the business landscape, driven by Brexit, digital advancements, evolving client needs and expectations, and more. The pandemic has exacerbated this uncertainty and added to pressures in different ways for different industries. As we look to the months and years ahead, an important part of how our economy thrives again in the long term will be rooted in the success of our young talent.

Justine Campbell is UK&I managing partner for talent, and Laura Keen UK&I apprenticeship leader, at EY

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