Advancing apprenticeship awareness

3 min read

Dr Hilary Leevers,

EngineeringUK CEO, places a focus on engineering apprenticeships and how to improve recruitment onto them.

If I asked how you can become an engineer, what would you say? For many, including young people and their teachers and parents, going to university would be their first thought. Other options, such as doing an apprenticeship, are often forgotten making it essential that we promote and support this pathway.

As National Apprenticeship Week takes place this month on the 7th to 13th February, it is important to celebrate apprenticeships and see how we can increase the number and diversity of engineering apprentices. This week brings together businesses and apprentices across the country to shine a light on the positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy. The theme for this year is ‘build the future’ which aligns with our mission at EngineeringUK of inspiring tomorrow’s engineers and securing the future engineering workforce.

apprenticeship awareness
Engineer And Apprentice Planning CNC Machinery Project. Image: stock.adobe.com

So, why are apprenticeships so important in the engineering sector? There is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to engineering. Everyone learns differently, everyone has different skills, and everyone has a different ambition. This means one career pathway will not be right for every young person, and that is why apprenticeships should be offered and promoted to all. Apprentice engineers can keep skills alive for industry, especially in areas with a predominantly aging workforce.

Unfortunately, engineering apprenticeships are not visible enough to young people and those who advise and influence them, and this is something we all need to change! We are still waiting for the government to commit to the necessary investment in careers education despite the fact that recent work at EngineeringUK has shown that less than half of young people know about apprenticeship options available to them. Parents are more likely to know about university than vocational routes, and socio-economic background appears to play a role in shaping young people’s knowledge and perceptions of education and skills pathways. There are so many talented young people who have no idea that an apprenticeship is out there waiting for them – so we need to work together to help them find it.

EngineeringUK holds a Business and Industry Panel 4 times a year with representatives from some of the UK’s most influential companies that are our Corporate Members. This Panel plays a vital role in helping to formulate and drive EngineeringUK’s agenda. It is a major opportunity for industry to participate in solving the skills issues facing the UK. Apprenticeships have been a focus at recent Panels and our Corporate Members have shared insights about the current situation as well as some brilliant ideas about how we can improve things.

Even before the global pandemic, 88% of businesses reported being challenged with finding skills at an affordable price. Engineering is still a male-dominated profession with very little accommodation for people with learning difficulties. This is reflected in the make-up of current apprentices - predominantly white British and male. We must ensure that engineering is an option for all and that apprentices reflect and offer opportunities to Britain’s diverse society.

The 2022 Make UK/PwC survey shows that talent and key skills are by far the biggest issues companies are having to address. The turbulence of the pandemic has caused a barrier to accessing key skills. Despite the current financial challenges, almost half of companies said they still plan to invest in apprenticeships in 2022 which is a positive step in the right direction.

So, what can we do?

  • We need to ensure that young people, as well as their parents and teachers, know about all career opportunities and education pathways, including apprenticeship routes into engineering. Feel free to use our resources to help with these communications.
  • Some of our Corporate Members built pipelines to their apprenticeships which helped improve the diversity of their recruits. Nurturing these pipelines have had the impact of increasing diversity at the work placement level which has translated into greater diversity further up. For example, using repeated engagements with potential applicants, and/or offering work experience or internships. Some provided targeted support to prepare for applications, such as mock interviews or help with CVs.
  • Many reviewed their communications and removed unnecessary criteria from recruitment to ensure that they were using inclusive language that landed well with their target audiences and presenting a range of role models, often drawing from recent apprentices.
  • Some Corporate Members worked with their supply chain to help smaller organisations take on apprenticeships by providing operational support. For example, in recruitment or financial support through transfer of the Apprenticeship levy.
  • The Apprenticeships website offers some useful resources and organisations can join the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network for more ideas and support.
  • Do get in touch if you’d like to work more closely with EngineeringUK and our Corporate Members

There have been some really impressive improvements following these efforts. For example, one organisation has boosted their uptake of apprenticeships by people from ethnic minorities and doubled its female apprentices, and another has reached gender balance.

Please do take the opportunity to engage with National Apprenticeship Week and join with others to open up apprenticeships to all.