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National Apprenticeship Week 2022: Building the future requires diverse skills pathways

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Organisations today fear the talent crisis. But the issue is not a lack of talented people, it’s a lack of skills development opportunities and diverse career pathways offered by employers. Businesses should give more credence to apprenticeships as a route to building the future.

7th Feb 2022
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This year’s National Apprenticeship Week theme ‘Build the Future’ highlights the impact apprenticeships are having on communities, local businesses and regional economies. The theme also calls attention to the many benefits a wider adoption of apprenticeships will have on our future workforce. These include ‘earning while you learn’ and developing tangible skills that reflect the modern and evolving workplace.

Apprenticeships provide hundreds of thousands of people with relevant capabilities to find and retain employment in the competitive job market. In many circumstances, employers demand that a successful candidate can demonstrate experience in both academic and practical skills for their application to be considered. This can leave many stuck in that negative, never-ending loop – unable to gain experience and also unable to get hired due to a lack of experience. The prioritisation of theoretical skills over practical capabilities, can be the reason so many recent graduates struggle to find entry-level positions.

The apparent skills crisis in the United Kingdom is not a consequence of a lack of talented people, it’s a question of how as employers we choose to support new and emerging talent. 

Knowing how crucial the development of capabilities is to our future workforce, alternative skills pathways are increasing in popularity and importance for individuals and businesses alike. Having advanced skills and diverse talent across the entire organisation is becoming increasingly more important for business leaders. Likewise, nurturing talent and upskilling on an ongoing basis, is an essential component for businesses today, if they are to build a stronger and more adaptable workforce for tomorrow.

Talent is everywhere – the key is investment and support

In my role, I meet with many employers to better understand the skills and capabilities they require in their businesses. Meeting the talent needs of an employer are multi-faceted, and those needs may not align with academic focus that universities provide today. Apprenticeships have the ability to fulfil employers’ expectations more readily, combining ongoing learning with the embedding of new knowledge and skills through practical application in the working environment.

I often hear about a talent crisis or shortage, but all of my experiences indicate this country is blessed with an abundance of brilliant talent. The apparent skills crisis in the United Kingdom is not a consequence of a lack of talented people, it’s a question of how as employers we choose to support new and emerging talent.  By considering diverse routes to gaining relevant skills and participating in providing those people with opportunities to apply skills to working experiences, we can realise the value of talented people. A ‘ready-made’ talent pool is unrealistic, but businesses that implement strong learning and development programmes, like apprenticeships, accelerate their ability to create a diversely skilled, highly productive workforce. 

We need to ensure there are many new and existing routes into employment that can harness the phenomenal potential of talent in this country. 

The apprenticeship route is proven to bridge the disconnect between the academic skills and knowledge provided by higher education and the skills businesses need. Historically, both employers and parents have valued university education over other skills pathways, but factors like the cost and time associated with a traditional university degree no longer a fit for people across our society. 

Similarly, employers want a combination of theory and on-the-job experience, and apprenticeships directly respond to those needs. They are future-focused, offering skills and experience in disciplines that many businesses need to grow. This ensure candidates have the necessary skills and capabilities to find employment in an increasingly competitive and crowded job market. 

With this in mind, apprenticeships are especially key to closing the digital skills gap in the UK. They offer individuals the opportunity to access the digital labour market and enable organisations to rapidly scale qualified talent in high demand areas, aligned to business growth. 

Building the future

Learning a new skill while working can give employees and employers greater choices – having a broader skill set makes employees more versatile to transition into different roles. For employers, additional benefits include growing talent and developing a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce aligned to the purpose and culture of the organisation. 

Everyone deserves access to lifelong learning, to gain diversified skills and access to various career pathways. In fact, our economy depends on it. As we face an employee supply challenge as well as continuing issues with outsourcing and reliability, it has never been more crucial to get this right. Additionally, more attention is needed for our youth workforce and alternative skills pathways to career opportunities are a large piece of this puzzle.

No one route will work for everyone. In this challenging environment, we need to ensure there are many new and existing routes into employment that can harness the phenomenal potential of talent in this country. 

Interested in this topic? Read 'Breaking the apprenticeship taboo.'

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