A by-line piece by Keith Smith, Apprenticeships Director, Education and Skills Funding Agency

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Can businesses really afford to ignore apprenticeships?

2019 is shaping up to be a truly exciting year for apprenticeships.

Already it’s been a great start, with the launch of the new apprenticeship ‘Fire It Up’ campaign in January – which focuses on changing the ‘not-for-me’ mindset towards apprenticeships and is making a significant splash across TV, billboards, digital and social channels.

Thousands of businesses are already offering world-class apprenticeship programmes. However, more firms need to come on board. Our aim with this campaign is to make all employers aware of the positive changes to apprenticeships and the significant benefits they can bring to their organisation.

On the heels of this, is National Apprenticeship Week, which will run from 4 to 8 March. The Week will see industry stakeholders and employers celebrate apprenticeships and their positive impact on organisations across England. Last year, was a record-breaking Week, and the biggest yet, with 780 events across the country, over 33,000 people engaging with our 10,000 talks movement and #NAW2018 trending on Twitter ahead of the Oscars!

This year, our collective goal for the Week is to shift awareness of apprenticeships into action, encouraging more employers to start their own apprenticeship programmes and more people across the country to consider doing an apprenticeship. The theme for the Week is ‘Blaze a Trail’ and we are calling on employers to take the lead and showcase how apprenticeships bring new energy into their businesses.

An impressive 96 percent of employers with apprentices say they have experienced at least one benefit from taking on apprentices, and most can count at least eight benefits.

Here are just three, applicable to every employer:

1.       Meet your workforce objectives. There are several workforce challenges affecting the engineering sector; the skills gap, an ageing workforce, low productivity and lack of diversity are just a few. Apprenticeships are a tried and tested approach to tackling these and other workforce issues, as we know from working with employers across many sectors. Over two-thirds of employers had seen improved staff retention (69 percent) and three-quarters report improved productivity (78 percent) and staff morale (73 percent).

2.       Sharpen your values. Increasingly customers, clients and employees are asking more of businesses. More people want to be associated with businesses that have a greater purpose, beyond profit making. Having apprentices in your business is a great way to boost your company image, allowing you to standout from your competitors.

3.       And the numbers stack up. All said, if you are business owner or head of finance, the bottom line is still paramount. For employers that do not pay the apprenticeship levy, 90 percent of training costs for apprentices are government funded. And for those who do pay the levy, it’s easy to open an account on the apprenticeship service to access your funds and pay directly for apprenticeship training - in fact over 90 percent of large employers have already done so.  There are also savings for apprentice employers from lower recruitment costs. In addition, there are indirect financial returns to consider. For example, a quarter of consumers are willing to pay more for products from a business they see as socially responsible, including apprentice employers.  

Apprenticeships have evolved significantly over the last few years. Today, there are many high-quality apprenticeships available across a whole range of sectors, from construction to cyber security. The move to employer-designed apprenticeships has allowed employers to develop apprenticeships that meet their needs. The quality has increased too, and the introduction of higher and degree apprenticeships has broadened the cohort of people completing them.

There has never been a better or more exciting time to consider apprenticeships, and I would urge every employer to leave behind any preconceptions they might have – and take a fresh look. Speak to other apprentice employers in your region, or training providers, and hear their experience first-hand. To find more about apprenticeships, please visit: https://www.apprenticeships.gov.uk/

If you want to get involved in National Apprenticeship Week 2019, please search NAW2019 on GOV.UK or contact us at: The.Week@education.gov.uk