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Why are we slow on the uptake of apprenticeships?

By Ian Barnes

National Apprenticeship Week highlighted many inspiring stories about how apprenticeships change the lives of young people, as well as boost business productivity. Yet, whilst the Business, Professional and Financial Services sector in the West Midlands contributes one in five of all jobs in the region, the statistics tell us that this sector is still underrepresented in its take up of apprenticeships, both as a method to recruit and upskilling.

Business Professional Services Birmingham, lead sector representative for Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, along with CITY-REDI, recently led a ‘deep dive’ investigation into productivity in the BPFS sector. The investigative report formed part of the wider West Midlands Combined Authority’s Productivity and Skills Commission. A key finding that emerged from the report was that skills and ideas are the clear priorities for increasing productivity in the BPFS sector. They are not only challenges for the future but, challenges being faced by businesses right now. 

This research shows there is a clear need to expand our labour pool, diversify our workforce, and increase workforce ability to adapt to technological and digital change with an injection of new skills. Apprenticeships present a significant opportunity for the sector to combat these challenges, by providing an effective pathway to recruiting from a more diverse talent pool, and introducing new skills, and digital technologies into businesses to drive productivity.

A Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce survey found that 78% of business, that had taken on an apprentice, reported that they experienced increased productivity. Furthermore, it is increasingly recognised that more diverse teams generate better ideas, are more creative, and more innovative. The Apprenticeships, Young People and Social Mobility Report highlights how apprenticeships offer one of the strongest routes into skilled employment for under-represented demographics, with the ability to ‘earn whilst you learn’ being a key incentive.

However, despite the evidence, it is important to recognise that, to date, there have been challenges for this sector in making the most of the opportunity. For example, the high level of existing training programmes has led some organisations to simply ‘rebadge’ rather than create new routes to employment. The potential issue with this approach is, that it doesn’t always reach individuals most likely to benefit from apprenticeships, or bring new skills into the organisation.

Many providers now offer programmes which are adaptable to an organisation’s needs. There are now over 400 apprenticeship standards available, covering all levels and types of roles that businesses need – ranging from development of senior leadership to business administrator, cybersecurity technologist to professional accountant.

Regional policy makers have also recognised the need to support local businesses in increasing their engagement with apprenticeships. GBSLEP has supported initiatives such as the Ladder for Greater Birmingham and Solihull – a scheme which provides support for businesses looking to take on apprentices through its support hub, and aims to create at least 1,000 apprenticeships across Birmingham, and Solihull by the end of September 2019.

It is clear that the BPFS sector has the opportunity to reap substantial benefits from creating new apprenticeship roles and tapping into the benefits of training their existing teams, whilst strengthening the whole sector.

I encourage businesses in this sector to find out more about hiring apprentices or apprenticeship schemes as a route to developing your existing workforce, you can start by visiting www.ladderforbirmingham.co.uk/employers/

* Ian Barnes is Business Financial and Professional Services, Sector Skills Champion, for Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership

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