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Apprenticeships: why are they taking off?

What are apprenticeships now so popular?

In 2015, the government declared its aim to have three million new apprenticeships by 2020; in November 2016, statistics revealed that there were 509,400 apprenticeship starts in England in 2015/16. This was 9,500 more than in the previous year, with a total of 904,800 people on an apprenticeship and 260,900 successfully completing one. 

A simple definition of an apprenticeship is a full-time paid job that incorporates on-the-job training and results in the successful apprentice gaining a recognised qualification upon completion of this training. Apprenticeships in the UK will change in 2017, with new funding and monitoring arrangements coming into effect in April.

One of the reasons for the rise in the number of apprenticeships is the increased demand for multi-skilled workers; for example, whereas in the past a manufacturing worker may only have needed to know how to operate a single machine, they now need to understand not only how to operate it but also how to programme and maintain it.

These added requirements have created a skills gap worldwide; indeed, a recent survey by Manpower Group, a human resources consultancy, found that 40% of the employers contacted were experiencing problems with recruitment. To try to solve this problem, most employers have internal employee and development programmes; as such, the rise in the popularity of apprenticeships is not unexpected.

The second main reason for the growth in apprenticeships is the change in education policy over recent years. As the number of graduates has swelled, so too has the level of debt that these graduates can expect to leave university with and the competition for ‘graduate level’ starter positions. Today, many graduates find themselves competing with hundreds of their peers for jobs, and having a degree is no longer a guarantee of a well-paid position.

As tuition fees continue to increase, graduate debt means that students are looking more and more towards the earning potential granted by their chosen degree and are finding that an apprenticeship is the better option for their careers.

For many years, apprenticeships were seen as something to be derided, with schools and careers advice focusing on academic qualifications. There is evidence that in some ways this attitude persists, with just 31% of young people aged 11-16 surveyed in 2014 saying that teachers had broached the topic with them; however, the same survey found that 55% of the respondents said they would be interested in an apprenticeship rather than a university degree if one was available in the career they wanted.

71% of all new apprenticeship starts are concentrated in three sectors: business, administration & law; health, public services & care; and retail & commercial enterprise. In the light of continued government support and continually increasing university tuition fees, however, the take-up of apprenticeships looks set to continue to increase and expand even further.

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