Guest blog: Securing tomorrow’s engineers through apprenticeships

In this month’s column, Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of Engineering UK, examines the importance of apprenticeships and how this route will help employers to develop a workforce with future ready skills.

@Technicians Make It Happen

With National Apprenticeship Week taking place this week (6 to 12 February), it’s an ideal time to consider the vital role apprenticeships play in supporting people into engineering, technology and technician careers. The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is ‘skills for life’. We’re being encouraged to reflect on how apprenticeships can help individuals to develop valuable skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career, while also enabling businesses to develop a talented workforce that is equipped with future ready skills. This really resonates with our mission at EngineeringUK to inspire tomorrow’s engineers and secure a diverse and skilled future workforce.

It’s always great to see many employers and organisations getting involved with this important week every year – from taking to social media to share your own stories of apprenticeships, to showcasing your current apprentices, there are many ways to show your support.

An inquiry into the decline of apprenticeships

While it’s hugely important to have this week focusing on apprenticeships, they should be front of mind year-round. With the ongoing skills shortage and the UK challenged to meet net zero by 2050, there is a pressing need for more engineers and technicians. However, despite a small uptick in numbers last year, engineering-related apprenticeship starts in England are still 9% lower than in 2014/15. What’s more, the uptake varies by subject with a worrying 34% decline for engineering and manufacturing technologies.

We launched an inquiry at the start of the year to investigate this concerning decline – in partnership with former Labour and Conservative ministers, Lord Knight and Lord Willetts. The inquiry seeks to explore the barriers and find solutions to help increase the number and diversity of young people taking up apprenticeships in the sector.

We’re urging employers, training providers, young people, and anyone with an interest or insights to offer, to respond to the ‘call for evidence’. Employers play a significant role in making apprenticeships a success, so it’s vital that these voices are represented in the inquiry. Please do share your views, experiences or ideas on how to improve this much-needed career pathway into the sector. This will allow us to understand and identify the barriers that exist, and develop recommendations to help grow apprenticeships uptake and, in turn, tackle the skills shortage. It’s been great to see the responses that have come in so far, if you haven’t submitted any evidence yet there is still time to do so, ahead of the 27 February deadline.

Inspiring young people into engineering careers

While apprenticeships undoubtedly offer an excellent route into the sector, there are of course a range of different career pathways on offer. We’re keen to ensure young people and employers alike are fully aware and informed about these options, so they can choose the path that works best for them. 

We recently held an online careers webinar, which explains some of the different educational and vocational routes a young person can take into engineering. We were joined by individuals from WSP, Thales and Balfour Beatty VINCI, and other members of The Tomorrow’s Engineers Code - a community of over 250 engineering organisations working toward common goals to increase the diversity and number of young people entering engineering careers. We really value this sort of collaboration with employers at EngineeringUK, and believe it is at the heart of sharing best practice and delivering impactful engineering outreach to young people.

This webinar also previewed a new careers resource called ‘All routes into engineering’, a guide for students choosing their next steps which includes a specific section on apprenticeships. This resource will be available on Neon - our website which hosts a range of careers resources, role models and engagement experiences for teachers to inspire their students with, to help expand their knowledge of and appetite for engineering and tech careers.

So, as the spotlight falls on apprenticeships this month, I encourage you to get involved - showcase apprentices and the apprenticeship route itself, respond to the inquiry to help us work out how to increase their uptake, and please consider if you can start or increase your support for apprenticeships to provide more young people with this vital route into engineering and tech careers.

Dr Hilary Leevers, Chief Executive of Engineering UK