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Developing skills for life

Updated: 07.02.24

Developing skills for life

As National Apprenticeship Week 2024 gets underway, Andrew Hartley, Deputy Chief Executive, The Sheffield College, explores how employers can benefit from training the next generation of talent.

During the last few years, there have been concerted efforts by education and training providers and the government to raise the profile of apprenticeships.

Myth-busting campaigns that challenge outdated stereotypes and highlight apprenticeships in the professions as well as traditional trades have been vital.

Increasing awareness amongst employers, parents and carers, and learners, has been essential to changing perceptions of this centuries-old form of training.

National Apprenticeship Week is all about showcasing the positive impact that apprenticeships have on individuals, communities, employers and economies.

We are pleased to back this year’s campaign, running from 5th to 11th February 2024, which is focussing on the theme of skills for life.

A skilled workforce is essential to tackling the big issues of our time including cybersecurity, sustainability, and health and social care. Apprenticeships have an important role to play in that. In England, apprenticeships are available to anyone over the age of 16 and take between one and six years to complete. 

Apprenticeships cover an exciting range of occupations from software development, accounting and management to engineering, quantity surveying and carpentry. Nationally, apprenticeships are developing in new and innovative areas such as digital, data, green, environmental and technology.

Apprenticeships are the future of business success helping to build careers, supporting job creation and economic growth.  Employers who invest in apprenticeships have consistently been shown to reap the benefits through greater staff retention and higher productivity.

It is interesting to trace their history and reflect on how apprenticeships have modernised. Apprenticeships in England date back to the Middle Ages when upper class families sent their children to live with families linked to the crafts guilds.

The first national training system, according to an article published in 2015 by the House of Commons Library, was introduced in 1563. By the 1960s, around one third of boys left school to become apprentices.

Since then, there have been various initiatives by successive governments to enhance the apprenticeship system and increase the number of apprentices. The introduction of degree-level apprenticeships from 2010 onwards has demonstrated the demand from employers for specialist high level skills.

Much more recently, we have seen the launch of Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) designed with employers to address technical skills gaps.

The Sheffield College began offering HTQs in construction, computing and health in 2023. HTQs enable students to progress onto a degree or degree apprenticeship.  These qualifications can be studied as part of an apprenticeship programme, an example being an HNC in construction.

There are major benefits to employers and learners from apprenticeships however the system is not without its challenges. One current issue includes ensuring that a higher and more diverse number of young people access and benefit from apprenticeships.

A national Sutton Trust report published in 2022, explored the recent revolution of apprenticeships. It found increased interest in apprenticeships among young people. However, the authors caution that the increase in degree level apprenticeships is not proportionately benefiting disadvantaged groups.

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced for all UK employers with a pay bill of over £3 million in 2017. Employers pay 0.5%of their bill to a fund for apprenticeships. 

Whilst some employers find the scheme very beneficial, others would prefer more flexibility to invest in other forms of training. Employers who do not pay the levy instead pay 5% of the cost of the training and assessment with the government contributing the remaining 95%.

In South Yorkshire, there is a strong commitment to enable both large and smaller employers, as well as learners, to get the most from apprenticeships.

As one the largest apprenticeship providers regionally our Apprenticeships+ service supports employers to get the skills they need.  During 2022/23 around 890 employers were involved in our apprenticeships programme, which is Ofsted graded ‘good’. Those employers were training around 1,900 apprentices covering a wide range of sectors from business and professional to science, dental and pharmacy.

Apprenticeships are a first choice destination for learners who want to go further in a career, earn as they learn in the workplace and develop new skills on a structured training programme.

On behalf of the South Yorkshire Colleges Partnership and the South Yorkshire Providers Network, The Sheffield College is also the project lead for the new South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub, which officially launched in December 2023.

Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) comprise the majority of employers in our regional economy, creating vital jobs which support our communities.

The hub is helping SMEs to train new talent to meet their skills needs, address hard-to-fill vacancies, improve productivity and develop their workforce for the future. The initiative is funded by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) and the South Yorkshire Colleges Partnership.

Based at SYMCA’s office in Sheffield, the hub is raising awareness of the benefits of apprenticeships and also provides impartial guidance, connecting employers with the best training provider for their needs.

A skilled workforce is essential to supporting economic recovery and making our city, and the country more competitive. This is set against a backdrop of wider socio-economic and political challenges including ongoing skills shortages, inflation, the fall-out from Brexit and the impact of international conflicts including the war in Ukraine.

Our vision at The Sheffield College is to be even more proactive and consultative with employers, to seek out gaps in skills and move into the green agenda. Investing in a talent pipeline is an absolute essential for businesses to be sustainable regardless of whether you are a large or small employer. Now is the time.

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