Tuesday 9 February 2021 2:00 pm

Office Politics: Apprenticeships aren't the only way to nurture young talent

Sally Lewis is Founder and Director of Stitch Architects

This week is National Apprenticeships Week – a focal point of the national drive to make more training accessible for young people.

But rather than a laser-like focus on apprenticeships or to focus on the Kickstart false-start – what it should be about is businesses recognising that apprenticeships aren’t the only way, and there are more imaginative, cheaper and easier ways to achieve the same long-term effect.

Once, apprenticeships were seen as a successful way of achieving this – in the 1960s, 35 per cent of all male school leavers became apprentices.

Over time and as the traditional ‘trades’ declined in the UK, the numbers of apprenticeships dropped and we shifted emphasis to academic education over on-the-job training. 

Read more: With apprenticeships, firms can teach old dogs new tricks

Yet set in the context of today’s businesses – fast-moving, ever-evolving and demanding – success requires a combination of practical skills developed through application and classroom learning. The practical wisdom that comes from learning on the job is and its value can’t be underestimated, which is where in-work solutions come in.

But formal apprenticeships aren’t for every business – or for every talent group, for multiple reasons. That doesn’t mean turning the tap off on a potential talent pipeline. There are other ways to create bespoke schemes that fit the needs of your business and invest in equipping young people with the practical skills they’ll need to traverse the world of work.

This practical wisdom, gained on the job, is important in disciplines like mine – architecture – and that’s driven us to be more creative in how we support tomorrow’s talent. Stitch’s mantra is based on building social value so we’ve spent time, money and effort looking beyond the formal apprenticeship route. 

We’re finding that a carefully thought-through combination of initiatives is working better for us than a single apprenticeship route, both when it comes to resource, the needs of our business and, I believe, our profession too. 

The backbone of our strategy is the Stitch Academy, designed to promote learning in young people. The Academy is underpinned by a carefully curated curriculum and enabled by easy-to-implement tools. We’ve just successfully hosted our first remote work experience student from Westminster. We’re launching a scholarship programme to fund less-advantaged students coming into the profession, in partnership with a leading educational organisation and backed by £30,000 funding pot, with the aim of supporting a student through the undergraduate degree. Finally, we’re setting up a charity to raise funds for future students.

I won’t say any of this has been any easier than going down the apprenticeship route. It’s taken time and resource across our team to work out what’s right for us and our ethos, and then to build it. But it is enormously rewarding because we’re convinced that initiatives like ours are a starting point in breaking down nepotism and elitism, allowing people to make it on merit.  In many careers, drive and ability are what really matters, not what university you went to or who your family knows. And of course, it is right for our people and our business. 

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These sorts of initiatives aren’t exclusive to Stitch or to a single discipline like architecture. The world of work is changing at warp speed. Thinking creatively about what’s likely to work for your organisation’s needs will bring multiple benefits, from fostering leadership skills in current employees to proven increases in productivity, generating new ideas and innovation to better service levels, right through to a more diverse, highly committed, loyal staff. 

And they’re tried and tested when it comes to finding future employees, test-driving the talent, and closing generational skills gaps with healthy cross fertilisation of ideas. In short, they’re a key part of future-proofing a business, as well as a way for the business to give back to the community.

To me, that’s proof positive that schemes like these open a door to careers, not just jobs. So, let’s not get distracted; let’s focus on filling in the UK skills gaps of the future, that our businesses and our economy will need, and work out how best to deliver them.

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City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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