As a method for young people and adult learners to earn while they learn, apprenticeships have existed for several years now. Once viewed as merely an opportunity for school leavers to attain a blue-collar career, they are now touted as the solution to the UK’s skills gap and the country’s youth unemployment figures. A combination of factors have produced the current climate, in which there has never been a better time to have, or to be, an apprentice. We’ve touched on these previously, but a lack of technical, desirable skills, graduates being not ‘work ready’, rising tuition fees and a rapid growth within the jobs market as the economy strengthens, are all factors in the rising popularity of such schemes.

Amongst the fiercest advocates of apprentices have been politicians, with the charge being led by none other than the Prime Minister, who recently stated that he wished apprenticeships to be the "new norm" for school leavers who decide against going to university. Generous funding is already available to those taking on an apprentice and George Osborne has put Government money where his mouth is, by reiterating a commitment to spending on apprentices in the Autumn Statement. This follows investment of record amounts in apprentices by the Coalition, with up to £1.5bn spent this year alone.

In response to the Richard Review, the Government has also laid out plans to make apprenticeships more employer-focused. It has committed to sweeping changes, designed to make hiring an apprentice straightforward and funding will now go directly to employers rather than training providers, offering them increased flexibility when seeking out candidates and partners.

With so much investment and such heavy backing, it’s surprising to note that, in spite of the hefty political support, only 13% of employers engage with apprenticeship programmes. According to research by learndirect, only 21% of organisations surveyed currently have an apprentice on their books.

Apprentices bring with them proven benefits; nearly every employer (96%) that takes on an apprentice reports a positive impact on their business and 72% of businesses said they saw improved productivity as a result of employing an apprentice, according to the Apprenticeships website. Apprentices can be a fundamental part of a succession plan, bring enthusiasm and competition to established workers, drive innovation, are typically very loyal and provide a clean slate from which to train someone in company values and niche skills.

All of which begs the question, why haven’t more businesses hired one?

We don’t have a definitive answer. Perhaps it’s due to a misunderstanding of what an apprentice can offer a business, or maybe it’s because of the longstanding perception that apprenticeship programmes hold less value than their graduate counterparts. If you’re amongst the majority of companies yet to employ an apprentice, what’s holding you back?  Conversely, you may already have an apprentice and want to share the impact they’ve had on your company? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you. 

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