Apprentices and apprenticeship programmes play an important part in addressing the technical skills drought affecting numerous industries within the UK.
While things are changing (for the better), there’s long been the perception apprentices are somewhat inferior to people who take the conventional, university degree route. But far from it; vocational, work-based education means apprentices learn specific industry skills and gain industry experience from the outset.
In fact, apprentices prop up some the UK’s largest sectors – manufacturing being one of them.
Manufacturing in figures
According to manufacturers’ organisation EEF, manufacturing employs 2.7 million people, and accounts for 45% of UK exports and 69% of business R&D. It contributes 10% of UK output, making the country the 9th largest manufacturing nation in the world.
It’s a lucrative sector to work in, too. Average manufacturing pay is £3,358 higher than the whole economy and £4,188 higher than services, at £32,467. Every sub-sector within the industry, bar food and drink, has higher average salaries than the service sector.
Companies favouring apprentices
EEF’s most recent report on recruitment in the manufacturing industry shows that firms in the sector are prioritising apprentices over graduates to gain the specialist skills required for the future.
The study found that nearly three quarters (74%) of companies now recruit apprentices, up from 66% in 2014. Meanwhile, over the same period, the number of companies taking on graduates has dropped from two thirds (66%) to just over one third (34%).
According to EEF, the findings demonstrate the crucial need to meet skills shortages at craft and technical levels, as well as to bring in young, fresh talent to the sector. Currently, 80% of manufacturing companies say the average age of their workforce is 41 or older. Half of companies also predict that up to one fifth of their workforce will retire within the next ten years.
With firms continuing with their expansion plans regardless of political and economic uncertainty, almost half are looking outside of the sector for workers with transferable skills who can take on harder-to-fill roles.
Head of Education & Skills Policy at EEF, Verity Davidge, commented that apprentices are “firmly in the spotlight” to help address the skill shortage.
“Offering the perfect mix of technical knowledge, skills and training, apprenticeship programmes are ticking all the right boxes for manufacturers. As a result we are seeing these numbers take off, while graduate programmes are on a downward descent.”
The message to universities
EEF stressed how more universities in the UK need to cast their net wider to include vocational learners, as opposed to simply prioritising academic students. Particularly as manufacturing companies are beginning to prioritise apprentices, and other sectors soon may follow suit.
Davidge concluded: “Universities and the wider higher education sector need to be alive to these trends as more and more employers and young people are now opting for vocational pathways that can offer a degree qualification at the end.
“As such they must open their doors to vocational learners, including T Level students in the near future, and put an end to prioritising academic pupils.”
Investing in apprenticeship programmes will help the manufacturing industry, and indeed a wealth of other sectors across the UK, employ workers with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive now and in the future.
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