How Apprenticeships Improve Social Mobility & Boost Economic Development

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Andrew Wolckenhaar who is an apprentice Project Manager.


Apprenticeships need no introduction. They offer individuals the chance to study for qualifications without incurring debt whilst at the same time providing the apprentice with the necessary experience to further their career. However, the benefits of apprenticeships extend far beyond the monthly pay check and qualifications. They are a vital tool in tackling entrenched inequalities in some of our most deprived communities and the current skills gap plaguing the UK economy.


Young people in the UK currently face an opportunity cost; one that especially affects those from less advantaged backgrounds. This is whether to follow the established path of attending University and racking up the unsustainable student debt that comes with it, or forgo the chance to further educational progression and higher earning potential and consider employment straight after school.


Good quality apprenticeships offer a ‘new’ third way into a career. Whether at an early stage for young people or helping older people consolidate their skills and develop new ones, apprenticeships are important for those who may not have the ability to fund private study but wish to advance their aspirations further. Due to the range of apprenticeship levels, from GCSE equivalent to Masters, it is very accessible for those with different qualifications to become an apprentice. Regardless of previous qualifications, there are options available for apprentices to progress and reach higher levels, all whilst becoming more financially secure and employable.


It has been common thought for generations that University education is one of the most effective ways of improving social mobility and the job prospects of young people. Traditionally this was true, with the best jobs in finance, management and engineering being restricted to those from a certain background. Apprenticeships have changed this set up: new reforms have increased standards and the range of apprenticeships available. It is now possible to pursue professional career opportunities on an apprenticeship, including those in law, as well as the traditional options in engineering and science. It is these changes that make the ‘learn and earn’ option more appealing to those considering against the established higher educational path. This switch also has the most potential in boosting the UK’s stagnating economy.


The UK is facing a skills gap in various sectors of the economy, especially in manufacturing and engineering. Apprenticeships offer a way of reducing this issue by providing a channel for new and existing talent to fill these opportunity areas. Regardless of the future politically, upskilling of the national labour force to make it more flexible, educated and most importantly employable, is essential in creating a solid, more sustainable, economy.


However further action is needed to improve the development of apprenticeships if they are to become the go-to option for training and qualification. A recent report by the employer led 5% Club calls for focus on 5 key areas:


1. Employers must develop strong links with schools and colleges in deprived areas and increase the access young people in those areas have to workplaces, mentors and work experience. Research shows that work placements, are particularly valuable for young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, giving them access to the work environment and improving employability.


2. Employers must examine their recruitment processes to ensure they understand where talented applicants from different backgrounds fall through the cracks (for example, the unnecessary process of requesting degrees for non-graduate roles). Support should extend beyond those at entry level. Employers should also examine whether there are internal barriers within the company that hamper those from disadvantaged backgrounds who are appointed from progressing up the career ladder, as well as developing programmes that support personal development.


3. There must be an improved awareness and understanding of what apprenticeships are, what they offer and the levels available to address outdated perceptions that they are ‘second best.’ Effective careers advice should be offered throughout schools to ensure that all young people have an understanding of the range of jobs and industries they could work in. Learning about the workplace during the primary school years should also be increased.


4. The Apprenticeship Levy should be evolved into a broader skills levy, with increased flexibility to allow it to be spent on other types of high-quality technical skills training.


5. Funding for the Further Education sector needs to be stabilised. Relationships with employers must be strengthened – with both Further Education providers and employers taking responsibility for making this happen. And there must be a period of consolidation, to allow for the reforms to become established and for the sector to focus on making them a success.


With further changes to the promotion and reform of apprenticeships, it’s possible that they become the norm rather than the exception in career development, aiding in creating effective change in improving individual prospects and economic growth.


Photo by Sabine Peters on Unsplash / Kredit

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