Monday 30 January 2017 4:45 am

The City should welcome apprenticeships to build a higher-skilled economy for all

The City of London Corporation recently announced its pledge to hire 100 new apprentices. This figure, combined with 17 current positions, will give 117 career-starters a role in the organisation.

This echoes Sadiq Khan’s recent calls for more powers to build skills among London’s workforce – and to help keep the capital globally competitive in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Companies certainly have a vital role to play in supporting youth employment and must walk the talk. Sixteen per cent of financial services firms report skills gaps – 2 per cent above the average of other sectors.

A recent City Corporation report, The City’s Business, shows the key role that City organisations like us can play in helping young people into work.

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For business engagement to be meaningful, however, it needs to start early, so young people are aware of future opportunities and helped to acquire the skills they will need to succeed.

This means not just focusing on academic achievement but working with schools and colleges through mentoring, careers fairs or workplace taster sessions, to help young people develop the employability skills that will give them a head start.

With the economy moving towards more high-skilled occupations, apprenticeships and other forms of vocational training need to offer quality and represent a viable alternative to higher education. They need to attract bright young people and become an essential part of employers’ recruitment mix.

Of course we need a workforce that has a variety of skill-sets, but the more young people progressing onto higher-skilled programmes, the better chance we have of reducing the skills gap and dramatically driving our economic growth.

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Apprenticeships are a key way of upskilling our young people, especially those for whom an academic route doesn’t appeal.

So while it can involve a time investment, in order to achieve a fulfilling apprenticeship for both businesses and young people, it is important that employers offer an authentic and worthwhile experience.

However, apprenticeships alone cannot bridge the skills gap. Students must be inspired to achieve their career goals, and be given practical advice on how to go about this. If we are to create the next generation of entrepreneurs in London schools, what we need is better partnerships between schools and businesses.

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We must open the eyes of young people to the possibilities they can aspire to: graduates and apprentices provide role models students can associate with, and can reassure young Londoners from similar backgrounds about their experience of a career in the City.

Social background should not determine career success and it’s in everyone’s interest to level the playing field for the future workforce.

There has never been a more important time for businesses to work closely with the education and training sector to demonstrate how pupils can attain the skills needed now and for the future.