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Future of Manufacturing & Transport Q4 2023

A 5-point plan to make apprenticeships fit for the future

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Dr Hilary Leevers

Chief Executive, EngineeringUK 

Apprenticeships offer an important route into engineering and manufacturing careers, but action is needed to ensure the system works for businesses and young people alike.

The workforce shortages engineering and manufacturing continue to face are extremely serious given the responsibilities the sector has in delivering critical infrastructure and responding to the climate crisis. We need greater diversity and hundreds of thousands more people to enter the workforce. We must enable more young people — from all backgrounds — to be inspired, informed and progress into engineering-related careers. 

Investigating the decline in uptake  

Apprenticeships offer an excellent technical route for young people into manufacturing jobs. However, there has been a worrying decline in engineering apprenticeship starts since 2016/2017, particularly for younger people. To understand the reasons behind this decline and make recommendations on how to reverse it, we launched an inquiry earlier this year, chaired by former Labour and Conservative ministers, Lord Knight and Lord Willetts.  

The inquiry found that while businesses value employees who have come via apprenticeships, many, particularly smaller firms, struggle to find the capacity and resources to take on young apprentices. Companies are also concerned about the quality of training provision and barriers in relation to apprenticeship standards and bureaucracy.  

On the other hand, young people lack awareness, do not appreciate the value of apprenticeships or struggle to find them. Financial barriers are also a challenge; apprentices have neither the advantages of student status (such as benefits, reduced travel, discounts) nor the salary levels of those in full employment.  

Young people lack awareness, do not appreciate the
value of apprenticeships or struggle to find them.

 Practical plan of action  

Based on insights gathered from businesses, education providers, young people and organisations, the inquiry report offers a new 5-point plan to help grow and sustain engineering, manufacturing and technology apprenticeships — making them more accessible, especially for young people.  

Launched in October, the cross-party plan calls on government, employers and training providers to work together, with recommendations across five areas to (1) rebalance education, (2) support young people, (3) refocus funding, (4) enable businesses and (5) encourage employers to take action.  

Unlocking the potential of apprenticeships  

Those involved in training the next generation and delivering apprenticeships must take responsibility. EngineeringUK will continue to raise awareness of apprenticeships among young people and their teachers and influencers, and advocate for action against the report’s recommendations. If we are to achieve the diverse future workforce needed for engineering and manufacturing to thrive, we must drive change to encourage more young people into the sector. 

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