The challenge of finding and retaining top quality talent is testing recruiters, HR teams and business leaders alike. Graduates in vital STEM subjects are few and far between, with the Social Market Foundation suggesting there could be a 50% shortfall in the number of STEM graduates required to fill the annual 100,000 job vacancies they will be needed to fill.  And further evidence warns that even if UK universities are able to produce these numbers, the problem doesn’t end there. Our True GrIT campaign and survey into recruitment within the technology sector revealed many university-educated candidates simply aren’t up to the job, lacking the right balance between technical ability, work experience and social skills.

This is where we see real value in getting to grips with recruiting apprentices; a readily available, vast pool of talent that has been traditionally neglected outside blue-collar industries. The National Apprenticeship Service recorded over 1.4 million online applications made to apprenticeship recruitment programmes in July 2012-13, showing the strong appetite for this alternative entry into the UK job market. We’ve been talking to apprentices across a range of businesses to understand the attracting of this previously marginal route into the job market from a young person’s perspective. Nathan Cousins, 18, a social media and digital apprentice, says it’s no coincidence that this trend is happening at a time when the cost of university is continuing to rise. 

Nathan says: “I decided not to apply for university as I wanted to get straight into working and build up my experience as soon as I left college. I’ve heard of so many graduates who struggle to get jobs because they lack real-life work experience. With the cost of university education rising all the time, I was determined not to get into debt with little to show for it – and this way I still get to earn a salary while continuing my educational development.”

For businesses demanding niche skills from their employees, apprentices offer a blank canvas that can be shaped to suit the firm’s exacting needs. We know from experience just how much time and effort is needed to train new hires in a company-specific skill or technique. Even if a university-educated candidate has a degree requiring them to know the theory behind a type of software, this becomes redundant if the business has developed its own niche technology – as is often the case.

Nathan comments: “Fresh out of college, I’m eager to learn new skills and I haven’t picked up any bad working habits. My placement business can mould me in a way that suits the company’s values, practices and needs.”

There are various ways to recruit an apprentice, as our free ebook explains [hyperlink], but a popular route is to partner with an official body that can select and supply the right person for the job. This is how Nathan came to be placed in his current workplace, which was selected by The Apprentice Academy in Manchester. For some employees, this provides peace of mind, while others would rather outsource the entire function to their existing agency or RPO.

“The backing of The Apprentice Academy means my employer is safe in the knowledge that I’m here for a full year; unlike a short-term hire on work experience, who’s at risk of leaving the company that’s spent a great deal of time and effort in training them,” Nathan notes.

Fact File:

Name, age, town

Nathan Cousins, 18, Stockport


9 GCSEs: Marple Hall High School

BTEC Creative & Media Level 3 Extended Diploma (DDM)

A/S Business Studies: Cheadle & Marple Sixth Form

Apprenticeship details

I’m on a 12-month Social Media and Digital Apprentice scheme run by The Apprentice Academy in Manchester, which started in November 2013. I’m placed in a relevant business where I work 9-5, five days a week, with monthly training and assessment dates. At the end of the course, dependent on successful completion, I’ll receive a Level 3 NVQ.

Job role

The Apprentice Academy sets a syllabus of skills that I must cover through my working day and training. This includes:

How to use different social media tools

How to measure the success of social media campaigns

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) & Social Media Optimisation (SMO)

How to create a list of keywords and key phrases

How to create Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)

How to create a link building plan for websites

How to evaluate external social networking tools for business

How to identify audience groups and brand ambassadors

How to use social media management tools

How to create optimised content for online profiles and blogs

Social media policy and the impact of Intellectual Property rights and Copyright Law

How to create your own personal website with blogs and social networking functionality