Despite the UK government setting a target of recruiting 3 million new apprentices by 2020, companies have failed to secure new applicants. Since 2015, apprenticeships have been given a legal status equal to university degrees in a bid to encourage more school leavers to take the vocational route. However, throughout 2016 and 2017, the number of students applying to become apprentices dropped sharply. It is only the technology industry that has fully embraced the scheme and set out to up their intake of apprentices.

Why Have Apprenticeship Rates Fallen Across the UK?

In the last quarter of 2017, the number of new apprentices declined by 27%. This occurred directly after a 59% drop in the previous quarter. The government is now on track to miss the targets which were enshrined in law in 2015. Apprenticeships have the potential to provide incredible value to school leavers, through teaching transferable trade skills, such as working on the aesthetics of a car, fixing plumbing systems or tiling a roof. These are all skills that will be of value to customers for many years into the future.

However, the new levy scheme is considered confusing by many businesses, who are unsure of how it all works. Beyond the complicated requirements, companies have also seen a decline in government funding. This means that businesses are having to pay for much of the training themselves, while also paying a wage to the apprentice. In many cases, it makes little financial sense to take on more than a couple of trainee staff members.

Tech Qualifications Inadequate

So why has the tech industry not followed the trend? A survey by Tech Nation found that over half of tech companies faced a shortfall in recruiting highly skilled workers. By pumping revenue in apprenticeships, tech companies are able to train employees to the standard they require, while also maintaining the loyalty of their apprentices.

Despite the fact that 13% of jobs require digital technology skills and 32% require some digital skills, schools are failing to teach students to a high enough standard. The only way for tech companies to acquire staff with the right know-how is to train them themselves. Bringing in foreign workers hasn’t been enough to cover the shortfall and this is likely to become even more difficult once the UK leaves the EU.

The Value of School Leavers

Technology companies have also set out to hire apprentices because they see a greater value in recruiting 16-18 year olds than those over 21. School leavers have shown themselves able to pick up new skills more quickly than university graduates. In the rapidly changing technology sector, this flexibility of mind is essential. However, in other industries there may be less need to train people up quickly, so they are more likely to recruit graduates who are cheaper to hire.

In a quickly changing economy, the government’s apprenticeship drive is failing. It is only the tech industry, where there is a significant skills shortage, that the apprenticeship scheme is having positive results. Technology companies are having to make up for the failure of schools to teach digital skills, but are finding high levels of returns on their investments in school leavers. For other sectors, however, more needs to be done to encourage the recruitment of apprentices.

Author: freelance writer Lucy Wyndham
Photo by Austin Poon on Unsplash


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