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Apprenticeships 2022

More reforms are needed to fill huge skills gaps

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Richard-7

Jennifer Coupland

Chief Executive, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE)

We have an unprecedented situation in this country with job vacancies now outnumbering the number of unemployed people for the first time since records began.

Filling skills gaps has never been more important amid post-Brexit adjustment, recovery from COVID-19, the drive towards net zero and the desire to level up across the nation. History shows that necessity will force technological advances, allowing industry to operate more efficiently, to fill some of these. But our workers, and potential workers, will have to upskill in a major way too.

Increasing skills-based training

Apprenticeships are a big part of the solution, but we will have to ensure all other skills training works just as well for employers and learners.

Before the employer-led reforms, too many apprenticeships were focused around a small number of low-skilled jobs, offering limited opportunities to progress up the careers ladder. This meant they were useless to lots of businesses with higher level skills needs and risked locking already disadvantaged people into low-pay, no-progress futures. 

These days all apprenticeships are designed by employers – leaders in their industries who know precisely what skills they need. 

This has driven up quality, ensuring they meet the economy’s full spectrum of training needs and apprentices will learn relevant skills that will set them up for long and successful careers. 

History shows that necessity will force technological advances, allowing industry to operate more efficiently

Variety within apprenticeships

Apprenticeships still cover all the traditional trades, like plumbing and hairdressing, but now they also train people to become nurses, laboratory technicians, aerospace engineers, countryside rangers, digital designers and much more. Apprentices can start at entry level two and progress right up to degree level.

Overwhelming choice available

The rollout of new T Levels, which are a classroom version of an apprenticeship with lots of work experience (approximately 45 days), is the first step. But looking across the wider system, there were over 14,000 different qualifications offering all different types of skills training in this country last year. Many of these are good but the choice is overwhelming for students and businesses trying to work out what courses will suit their training needs best, and it needs rationalising.

The guiding principle for that rationalisation, which will inform a new process being developed by IfATE, will be whether they match up to the same employer-defined standards that guide apprenticeships and T Levels.

There is a big prize here – government, employer and learner investment coming together to support a high-quality and joined-up skills training system, that people understand and trust to develop the skilled workers every sector needs. 

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