Apprenticeship Week: We can celebrate a revolution in the UK’s skills market

Tim Campbell
Google, Barclays, PwC, Capgemini and BT have all embraced apprenticeships to grow their own talent (Source: Corbis)
As many of us look forward to the weekend, I’m here reflecting on the eighth National Apprenticeship Week and the hundreds of events that have taken place across the capital, recognising how apprenticeships have transformed the skills market in the UK.

As the mayor’s ambassador for training and enterprise, and as head of emerging talent client services at Alexander Mann Solutions, I have been to a number of these events over the years. But I have noticed something different this year. In 2015, it hasn’t been about trying to convince employers, parents or those making career choices that apprenticeships have true value. This year, it has been about celebrating their revolutionary success.

Since 2010, there have been 189,400 apprenticeship starts in London, with just over 40,000 apprenticeships last year alone. We should be proud that we can now celebrate over 2m apprentices. While it isn’t just about numbers – Chris Jones, chief executive of City & Guilds, reminds us that we must also focus on the quality of the training – there is a need to take stock of how far we have come. I can still remember when vocational training was associated with those who couldn’t make it on to an academic programme.

Now, we not only have apprentices trained to degree level, having completed a higher apprenticeship in fields like accountancy, engineering and information security, but we also have a respected alternate pathway into a career that is championed by some of the most recognised businesses in the world. Google, Barclays, PwC, Capgemini and BT have all embraced apprenticeships to grow their own talent. And the great work of Jason Holt CBE and others has kick-started a much-needed focus on SMEs, who will greatly benefit from motivated, loyal and productive apprentices. The mayor is determined that London businesses, particularly small firms, should recruit talented young Londoners, and that is why the London Enterprise Panel, which he chairs, has doubled the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers to £3,000 per apprentice, to encourage more firms to take on young people.

Degree apprenticeships with an emphasis on digital skills will start for the first time in September, and this week the mayor confirmed another £1.8m of funding for a scheme that will create over 3,500 new apprenticeships across the capital. The funding is expected to open up opportunities in thousands of London businesses, with an emphasis on firms that may never have taken on an apprentice before.

This rosy picture does have some flaws, however. Employers need support to select the right training provider. Parents need more information about the value of a modern apprenticeship if they are to support their children in making informed decisions. And schools need more backing to provide careers guidance that is both independent and bespoke.

But these and other challenges aside, we are rightly using this week to applaud the fact that the degree letters after your name are not the only badge of honour in town anymore. The apprenticeship revolution continues, and long may it do so regardless of what happens in May. And with the help of the BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel 4, who all employ apprentices, this revolution will be televised!

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