This year’s National Apprenticeship Week, which will take place next month, between February 3rd and 7th, is now just a matter of days away. Across some 1,250 separate events spread over the week, the event acts as a celebration of apprenticeships and the great work being done by schools, colleges universities and businesses to promote apprenticeship programmes.
Talent is in short supply
The week also provides a timely reminder of the benefits of apprenticeships for employers – not least when it comes to the promise of apprenticeship schemes to help solve one of the biggest challenges facing UK businesses: the skills crisis.
Apprenticeships play a big part in addressing the skills shortage within the tech sector. The shortage of talent is hindering companies growth as it’s hard to scale teams at a pace to match the current growth of the tech sector.
Carlene Jackson, CEO of Cloud9 Insight
This challenge must be addressed urgently. The scarcity of skilled workers in the UK is a potential timebomb, and businesses warn that the skills shortages could harm the UK’s global competitiveness. It’s thought that the lack of digital skills is already costing the UK economy £63 billion a year.
Addressing the skills shortage
Recognising the scale of the challenge, government, the education sector and business have started to act. Since 2010, secondary school age students have been able to attend University Technical Colleges (UTCs), which aim to provide 14-19 years olds with a technical education linked to a curriculum that reflects the needs of today’s businesses. From there, students can either continue their education at university, take up an apprenticeship or both. UTCs work because they connect people with the skills they need for their regional workplaces and local businesses with the skilled talent they need to meet their growth ambitions.
Over the past few years, the government has also started to offer more direct support to SMEs to help them bridge their skills gaps. So, for example, 95% of a SMEs’ training and assessment costs for the lifetime of an apprenticeship is now paid for by the government. The government also pays a grant of £1,000 for every 16-18-year-old apprentice taken on by an SME.
Seeking out new blood
For their part, companies have begun to realise that younger workers, although untrained and requiring investment, represent a largely untapped talent pool that could prove valuable. SMEs are engaging with their local UTCs to help guide the curricula and provide work opportunities for graduating students. Many are working through other third-party initiatives that seek to build links between schools and industry. The Design and Technology Association, for example, runs a programme where industrial businesses help train teachers by explaining the skills they need and the apprenticeship opportunities available to students.
Looking to hire an apprentice? Check the benefits of apprenticeships to SMEs
The initiatives above may come from different angles, but they all recognise that apprenticeship schemes will play an important role in helping ensure SMEs have access to the skilled talent they need. This is good news, because apprenticeships bring with them a number of important benefits that can help SMEs thrive. We have created a checklist below with the main areas that
Tailoring your workforce: by taking on young apprentices and training them your way, you can ensure that the skills most important to your business are prioritised. In essence, with many young apprentices, and pre-existing technical training aside, you are working with a blank canvass. There are fewer bad habits to iron out and you can ensure they are working from your template, using your processes, from day one. Once the upfront training is complete, apprenticeships can, therefore, make for more efficient and effective workers.
They can help you grow: if, as is the case with many SMEs, yours is a high-growth business, it can be difficult to meet staffing requirements in the short-term. You might need help over a short period of time to help with a specific task, or you may need to promote a junior employee to a more senior role, leaving you shorthanded. Having an apprenticeship programme can help by giving you access to a flexible pool of workers that can be switched between task and roles with relative ease. Of course, apprenticeships shouldn’t only be seen as a means of fixing immediate skills gaps. You have a duty to train fully the apprentices you take on, and you never know – that investment today may produce the future leaders of your business.
Apprenticeship schemes are cheap: as mentioned above, the government shoulders all but 5% of the training costs for your apprentices. However, if you pay more than £3 million in salary costs over the course of a year the rules are different and you’ll receive funds to spend on training and assessing your apprentices. Either way, the support available to SMEs is generous and makes running an apprenticeship programme something of a no brainer.
Apprentices bring fresh ideas: every new generation has different ways of thinking and different reference points. This is hugely beneficial for businesses. SMEs that can mix the varying outlooks, perspectives and ideas of Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennial and Generation Y workers will find they can leverage a diversity of thought that can fuel innovation and drive competitive edge.
Apprenticeship programmes drive productivity: three in four SMEs say they saw an increase in productivity after hiring an apprentice. 72% say apprentices have helped improve a product or service. The increase in productivity largely comes about because of the investment in specific, high-impact skills by employers.
Of course, getting an apprenticeship programme up and running comes with its own set of challenges. You must find and acquire the best talent available, and then manage their journeys through their time at your business. This includes ensuring that their performance is measured, reviewed and rewarded appropriately and that they are trained efficiently and effectively in all the required areas.
Having an apprentice will give you the potential to do some of the little things that could make a big difference to improving your customers experience that often we may be too busy to do. Of course the best benefit of all is you are developing talent for your future growth molded to your own culture and ways of doing things.
Carlene Jackson, CEO of Cloud9 Insight
These are tasks that can be solved by the right Talent Management Software. But which is the best fit for your business? Take a look at the Capterra directory; here we’ve listed the options available to you and provided user reviews to help you make your choice. With the right tools in place it’s never too soon to start enjoying the benefits on offer through apprenticeship programmes.