Making Work Better: How apprenticeships can futureproof your workforce

Written by Investors in People

Article Summary

Perceptions of apprenticeships are changing. Once dismissed by the public as the poor vocational cousin to the university degree, they’re now seen by many as a genuine, often highly competitive alternative entry path to some of the most sought-after careers. The number of apprenticeships on offer has risen dramatically and employers, impressed by how good they are, are increasingly using them to not only expand and diversify workforces but to futureproof them too; to ensure organisations in both the private and public sector have the right people in place to fill their most valuable roles for years to come.   

One of the topics at our Make Work Better conference in September 2023, was the role of apprenticeships in the future of work, we’re taking a look at why so many now believe they are one of the best ways to address the UK’s skills shortage.

Apprenticeships: no longer the second-class route

It’s the government levy, introduced in 2017, which has been the biggest driver behind the rapid expansion in the number and type of apprenticeships on offer. Where once apprenticeships were limited to vocational industries, such as hairdressing and woodworking, now, among many other things, you can be an apprentice solicitor, doctor, accountant or trader. In fact, across almost all industries, organisations are using the levy to create apprenticeships at all levels and entry points, be it for school leavers, careers changers or their own staff looking to upskill.

For the government, apprenticeships are a success story. According to the Chartered Management Institute, apprentices who qualified in 2019 are projected to add seven billion pounds to the economy by the end of 2029[1], which means with an initial training investment of two billion, they’ll have seen a 300% return. It’s one of the reasons why the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has described apprenticeships as the “cornerstone” of the government’s Plan for Jobs scheme, because they believe they contribute “to a high-skill, high-productivity economy.”[2]

So, have we really caught up with countries like Germany where apprenticeships aren’t seen as the second-class route into employment but just another part of the education system? Not quite. Recent research suggests 44% of people now believe apprenticeships offer young people better job prospects and preparation for the workplace than university[3], but it’s still hard for teachers and parents to know whether a particular apprenticeship scheme is the right choice.

While it’s relatively easy to figure out if a university offers a good course and prospects, at the moment, the only option marking out a good or excellent apprenticeship provider is if they are accredited by us.

An opportunity to create your future workforce

While the levy might be primarily responsible for driving up the number of apprenticeships available, it’s seeing the benefits they bring to the business which has changed attitudes among employers. When we talk to the organisations we accredit under our We invest in apprenticeships framework we hear the same comments about what they’ve discovered after hiring apprentices: they bring new thinking, ideas and energy and, when a scheme is well run, they’re also more loyal and committed to an organisation after their apprenticeship finishes.

Take British Airways as an example. They started having apprentices back in the 1970s to address a worldwide shortage of licensed aircraft engineers which still exists today. Since the introduction of the levy, however, they’ve taken a more centralised approach to apprenticeships, to ensure consistency as well as diversify and expand the range of apprenticeships they offer.

Ricky Leaves - Senior Apprenticeship Manager, British Airways

“The majority of our schemes are tailored and designed to build pipelines for different levels and entry levels into the business,” says Ricky Leaves, BA’s Apprenticeship Manager. With feedback from managers that apprentices are outperforming their colleagues or that they’re desperate to offer them permanent roles because they’re so good, he says, “the whole business is seeing the benefit.”

Aside from their engineering apprenticeships, which bring in about 60 new recruits a year, BA also have a Head Office scheme, known as the Business Professional scheme, where apprentices work towards a Level Three Business Administrator apprenticeship and then specialise. 

This year, for example, they have an apprentice working in their Community Investment and Sustainability team, developing their skills in fundraising, because they’ve identified this as an area where they’ll need more staff in a few years’ time. They also have an Aspiring Leader apprenticeship, where the apprentice studies for a degree in Chartered Management with the intention they go on to work in one of BA’s middle management roles. The key, says Ricky, is to not view apprentices as simply a resource:

“It’s about helping developing individuals gain the skills and knowledge they need for that business area…It’s very much forward thinking, working out how we can use the Business Professional scheme or Aspiring Leaders scheme to generate a talent pipeline for substantive and permanent roles in two- or three-years’ time.

BA are far from alone in viewing apprenticeships as a way of making sure they have a workforce with the right skills for the future. British Gas recently announced they want to take on an apprentice a day until 2030 and, to address the gender imbalance in engineering, they want half of them to be women. And companies like Costa Coffee and Starbucks also run large apprenticeship schemes, where the apprentice might start out making coffee but the intention is they go on to management positions; apprentices stay because there is progression.

The levy has helped organisations create apprenticeships for any area of the business where they see a need. And, says Ben Godfrey, our Apprenticeships Product Manager, that’s why they’re seen as important in overall workforce planning: “They can fill all the niches. They’ll meet those future needs because we can now make more and more apprenticeships.” Here he points to the benefits for both new industries, such as AI and coding, and old industries such as car making, particularly manufacturers like the Morgan Motor Company who make their cars by hand. “Those very old traditional ways of working are only really kept alive by apprenticeships because universities don’t offer these sorts of degrees.”

Creating sustainable success

For the individual, says Ben, apprenticeships “are definitely becoming a genuine alternative to university because of the cost of living, the prices of degrees and because you can earn as you learn.”

And for employers, the benefits to plugging their skills gaps are obvious. Ricky’s advice for anyone thinking of using their apprenticeships to plug workforce shortages? “Don’t view the levy money as a budget. Ask yourself the question, why this apprenticeship? It has to be meaningful, there has to be a reason behind it. It’s not just that we’ve got X amount of millions in our levy account so we’re going to offer every Captain and First Officer the chance to do an MBA Senior Leadership. It has to be right. You don’t just implement it and react. You have to plan it, test it and then implement it.”

Ben and Ricky both spoke at our Make Work Better conference on 20th September.

About Investors in People

Investors in People have been working with a huge range of big and small organisations from Public Sectors, SMEs, Charities, PLCs and anything in between for over 30 years. We have accredited more than 50,000 organisations and our  accreditation is recognised in 66 countries around the world, making it the global benchmark when it comes to people management. So we know we speak your language and can offer the specific kind of support and guidance your organisation needs.

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14th Nov 2023 | Old Billingsgate, London



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