Apprenticeships: mind the gap

With some sectors in the economy suffering from a shortage of qualified workers, apprenticeships could offer a way of bridging the skills gap while at the same time boosting social mobility and worker productivity.


Securing the foundations of a strong and dynamic economy is key to our long-term prosperity as Britain prepares for life outside the European Union. But skills shortages in sectors such as fintech (financial technology), hospitality and engineering are holding us back.

Last year a Government report found that almost a quarter of job vacancies were caused by skills shortages, which represents an increase of 43% in just two years. In the months since the Brexit vote there have been fewer European workers seeking jobs in Britain, as a result of uncertainty surrounding the right to work, and this has highlighted the skills gap in the domestic labour market.

If we take engineering and defence as examples, then we can begin to see the scale of the gap.

Research carried out by Engineering UK found there is a 20,000 annual shortfall in the number of engineers produced by the education system. Meanwhile, experts have warned that the skills gap in the defence sector leaves Britain vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

The challenge, therefore, is to ensure that our young people learn the skills that employers are looking for. One of the ways we could accomplish this is through apprenticeships.

In 2015, the Government set a target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020 as part of a plan to put vocational education on a level with academic study. Historically, one of the barriers has been that vocational education was regarded by parents as something for “other peoples’ children”. But vocational education shouldn’t be seen as a second-class route. There are actually lots of benefits.

Apprenticeships typically take between one and six years to complete, depending on their level, and this flexibility makes them more accessible to people from different educational and social backgrounds. Higher and Degree Apprenticeships can attract people who wouldn’t otherwise have considered Higher Education and this can help improve social mobility.

Low productivity was described in the Government’s industrial strategy green paper as one of Britain’s “underlying weaknesses” that is holding back the economy. In addition to training new workers, companies could use apprenticeships to upskill their existing workers. This investment in human capital can help boost productivity.

Apprenticeships could offer organisations a recruitment boost, which is especially useful for those hard-to-fill vacancies that require a specific skillset. They’re also a great way for companies to bring in fresh talent and new ideas. Training can be tailored to fit business needs and much of the learning can be done ‘on the job’, so this helps minimise disruption.

Apprenticeship Levy: what you need to know

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in April to fund new apprenticeships and help the Government reach its target of three million apprenticeship starts by 2020. The levy is charged at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s paybill and the levy will only be paid on annual paybills over £3 million.

Each employer will receive a £15,000 allowance from the Government to offset against their levy payment. Full guidance is available online at www.gov.uk.

Getting started

The University of Derby can help you get started if you are thinking of hiring apprentices or if you’d like to develop your existing apprenticeship programme. We have a strong background in delivering real-world learning in partnership with industry. That’s why we’re the top university in the East Midlands for graduate employability.

Currently, we can support apprenticeships at all levels from 2-7 and offer entry points at the level that is suitable for your needs.

Jane Lowe, Acting Head of Apprenticeships at the University of Derby, said: “We recently received £250,000 funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to develop new degree apprenticeships for students starting in September 2017.

“Apprenticeships are a great way to address the skills gaps in the economy. We’re therefore delighted to be launching five degree apprenticeships in response to the specific needs of our region.”

The new degree apprenticeships are:

  • Nursing
  • Civil Engineering Site Manager
  • Digital and Technological Solutions: Cyber Security Analyst
  • Aerospace Engineer
  • Chartered Manager

To find out more about apprenticeships and the support that is available from the University visit www.derby.ac.uk/apprenticeships or get in touch by emailing apprenticeships@derby.ac.uk.

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