In a rapidly changing workplace environment, many businesses are concerned that they will not be able to keep pace with technological developments. New research suggests that one way to meet this challenge may be through the provision of apprenticeships and other on-the-job training.
The research was conducted by the 5% Club. This is a non-profit organisation for employers. It is dedicated to helping its members fill skills gaps and improve on-the-job training. To do this, it aims for every member to have at least 5% of its employees in “earn and learn” roles such as apprenticeships and other student and graduate schemes.
According to the research, 91% of 5% Club members believe that on-the-job training could assist in filling skills gaps. 71% also believe that this kind of training could also help businesses as they more generally prepare for the future. This is important because only 2% of the companies questioned had confidence in their ability to take advantage of improving digital technology. 54% believed that if their business wanted to utilise a new technology such as artificial intelligence, on-the-job training was a key way to make the attempt more successful.
Another challenge facing employers is the ageing nature of the population. As people live for longer and therefore work for longer, they will need to constantly update their skills throughout their working lives. If not, modern technology is guaranteed to outpace the workers. Of those questioned, 67%, so close to two-thirds, believed that apprenticeships would help develop the skills of the ageing workforce.
One 5% club member, Skanska, claimed that through its use of apprenticeships, it was able to access a wider talent pool for recruitment. It does not just hire school and college leavers, but also older workers seeking apprenticeships.
Care leavers and those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) also have their own programmes to encourage them into on-the-job training. It also has a wide range of roles available, with recruits moving into construction management and quantity surveying as well as digital engineering and human resources.
Commenting on the research, the director general of the 5% Club, Lady Cobham, observed the need to prepare workforces for a level of change that is unprecedented. This means that education providers also need to adjust their courses to be better suited for the new skills the workplace requires.
She was also critical of the 2017 apprenticeship levy introduced by the government. In the first three-quarters of the academic year from 2017-18, the number of people starting apprenticeships decreased from the 2016-17 level of 440,300 to 290,500. This is a reduction of close to a third.
If apprenticeships and other on-the-job training are the key to preparing for technological advancements, the research is clear that government, education providers and employers all need to focus more on how these roles can be provided.