Monday 3 February 2020 5:36 am

Businesses and young people should embrace the apprenticeship revolution

Sophie Adelman is co-founder and president of WhiteHat
co-founder and president, WhiteHat

If you are looking for a business leader of the future, look no further than Jamilah. Her peers are yet to graduate from university, and this brilliant digital marketeer already has a qualification and a role at Google on her CV. 

Jamilah, and thousands like her, are taking advantage of new apprenticeship opportunities, shaking up the received wisdom that you need to go to uni to get a prestigious career. 

With National Apprenticeships Week starting today, it is time to celebrate their success. 

Britain’s top employers are fuelling this change, driven by a need for motivated, skilled talent. Many firms are dropping a university degree as an entry requirement to the workplace, and accountants are reporting that apprentices are outperforming graduates in their qualifications and showing greater long-term commitment. It’s nothing short of a revolution. 

So why is this happening? First, the world of work is changing. The digital revolution is shifting not just how we do our jobs but the actual jobs we do. 

Universities are failing to keep pace with this changing workplace. Even the best universities still teach people in the same ways that they did a century ago. Success in the workplace requires transferable skills developed through application rather than classroom learning. Applied learning is where apprenticeships lead the way. 

Second, apprenticeships themselves have changed. Yes, they may still be a reliable route into engineering and construction, but the areas of real sustainable growth are in professional services, digital, and technology. My company, WhiteHat, runs best-in-class apprenticeships in the jobs of the future, such as digital marketing, data analysis, and software engineering, and employers pay for the training using their apprenticeship levy.

The reason that apprenticeships have kept up to date is simple: they rely on a partnership with employers, and so respond to the needs of business much faster than universities ever will. 

The final driver of the apprenticeship revolution? Diversity is now an existential issue for businesses. McKinsey research has found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Meanwhile, 63 per cent of millennials would consider quitting if their employer did not prioritize diversity and inclusion, according to Deloitte. 

Again, existing structures are not delivering what top firms need. Universities have made important strides in recruiting more diverse graduates, but have done little to help black and minority ethnic (BME) or state-educated people get into top jobs. Even with a degree, BME Brits are between five and 15 per cent less likely to have a job six months after graduation. Apprenticeships provide another route for them.

However, the social aspect of university often pushes people down an academic path, even when they know it is not right for them. It is seen as a time to make friends and build networks that will set them up for life. But there is no reason why universities should monopolise this.

For apprenticeships to become the outstanding alternative to university, this community offer has to be just as good. That is where Jamilah comes in. For the next stage of her career she will be the apprenticeship community president at WhiteHat — running events, creating societies, and bringing apprentices together to build connections. Done right, this will make apprenticeships the natural choice for any young person with big dreams and the motivation to be successful. 

The world of work is changing beyond all recognition. Companies need skilled employees, and young people are looking for better routes into top careers. Together, we can harness the apprenticeship revolution to deliver the skills that our economy needs.

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