What Is The Problem With Apprenticeships?

The current talent shortage is making it increasingly difficult for employers to find quality candidates.  October’s REC/KPMG Report on Jobs reported a slowdown in the growth of jobs due to the lack of available skills – and available candidates.

Compounding this problem is the impact of the soft skills shortage.  These latest figures will continue to spark the debate over the importance of ‘experience’ over qualifications, an issue identified by entrepreneur James Caan, but the cost to the economy cannot be ignored. At present levels, the loss in productivity due to the lack of soft skills is expected to reach £8.4bn per year by 2020.

Download our Report on the UK's Soft Skills Shortage

University degrees versus apprenticeships

With 60% of graduates in non-graduate jobs, an alternative suggestion is, where appropriate, to encourage young people to consider an apprenticeship.

Research carried out by the Boston Reporting Group, in association with the Sutton Trust, found that apprentices with a Level 5 qualification have the potential to earn up to £50,000 more than people attending University. According to the report, the best apprenticeships offer the same earnings potential and financial security as a University degree.

Far from being the ‘poor relation’, apprenticeships offer a viable alternative to a degree. The problem in the UK is that they are not regarded by the majority of young people, their parents or teachers as equal to a degree. This perception was made clear in a report released by OFSTED last month. Entitled Apprenticeships : developing skills for future prosperity, the report concluded that too many of the apprenticeships currently on offer are of sub-standard quality and identified the following concerns:-

  • One third of the providers covered by the report were not providing appropriate training. 
  • Only 5% of 16 year olds are taking up the option of an apprenticeship.

Changing attitudes

According to research, more than half of employers rate soft skills higher than academic qualifications and recognise the need to offer vocational training alongside formal study.  

At the same time, as the skills shortage becomes more acute, a growing number of companies are changing their attitude towards candidate assessment. Global accountants Ernst and Young recently announced their intention to drop the requirement for a degree from their initial screening processes, stating that screening candidates ‘based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach’. This new strategy will take effect from 2016 and follows PwC’s announcement earlier this year of its intention to remove A Level grades from its screening process.

How can employers play their part?

OFSTED’s recommendations include:-

  • The need for employers to work more closely with schools and further education institutions to resolve the problem with apprenticeship quality.  
  • The need for increased collaboration between employers and apprenticeship providers to ensure appropriate training is being delivered.   

Additional steps which employers can implement within their own hiring process to close the ‘soft skills’ gap in the meantime are:-

  • Adjust screening processes to focus on soft skills, rather than qualifications, by following the example of PwC and Ernst & Young.
  • Implement personality profiling to ensure a better candidate match and identify the essential skills that will mean a better culture fit within your company

Without action and co-operation between employers and educational institutions, coupled with a shift in fundamental attitudes towards vocational training, the soft skills shortage will continue to jeopardise the ability of UK businesses to source quality candidates.

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The UK's Soft Skills Shortage - Report

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