How apprenticeships can support UK skill shortages
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How apprenticeships can support UK skill shortages

03 February 2020 By Lizzy Grayson - Category Manager of HR Services at YPO

employer helping apprentice

The public sector currently faces a high number of staff and employee shortages which risks the delivery of public services. However, apprenticeships can play a key role in improving these skill shortages across the UK.

In the public sector, there are some roles where we simply need to develop more skilled individuals. This is likely to increase in the coming years especially in social care, education, nursing, emergency services and IT.

We are rushing to fill the roles in the short-term, but it is vital that we look at the long-term vision for the future too, in order to prevent the demand from increasing. However, when the world we work in is so busy this can be difficult to achieve.

Apprenticeships and recruitment

In long term recruitment strategies, it is important to review whether the apprenticeship standards we are procuring will support our workforce issues in the future. The apprenticeship strategy and recruitment strategy should sit hand in hand, we have seen some fantastic examples of this across the public sector. 

Apprenticeship programmes allow employers to identify their skill gaps and recruit for a role that offers both skills training and paid work to the employee. Searching for apprenticeship candidates allows you to delve into a much deeper pool of potential because the training to become a skilled employee is provided.

In education, teacher shortage has become a real problem which is continuing to grow all around the country due to budget cuts and restrictions. This current and developing crisis has meant some schools are having to hire less qualified teachers, utilising teachers who may be trained in other subjects, or unqualified substitute teachers are being asked to step in instead. 

The Teacher Apprenticeship is a real bonus to the scheme and will hopefully overcome the shortages the education sector is currently facing. It’s cost effective, allows aspiring teachers to earn while they learn and lessens the burden on the school around having to source and fill empty teaching positions. 

Since May 2015, there have been over 1.8 million individuals who have started an apprenticeship (up until April 2019). This is a fantastic achievement but only the start, as we want to make sure all public sector employers have the skilled workforce they need.

External factors affecting skills shortages

Brexit is likely to impact some key public sector roles. International recruitment currently plays a vital part in filling some of the key health and social care roles available and it is likely that this will need to continue to prevent further shortages. 

Individuals will now require a new legal status to live and work in the UK, and with approximately 65,000 of the NHS workforce and 115,000 of adult social workers being from EU countries, it's important to ensure they have the appropriate status. Individuals can now register with the government's EU settlement scheme to gain legal status.

Ensuring our strategies meet our vision

If we create appropriate sector-wide apprenticeship strategies across the nation, then we can support the skills gaps for the future. Here are some examples of how apprenticeships have made improvements in different areas of the public sector so far;

  • The government are aiming to distribute 20,000 police officers into the streets over the next three years, a high proportion of these have been recruited through apprenticeships
  • A registered nurse degree apprenticeship is being procured by many NHS trusts across the UK in order to make a significant impact on the NHS skills shortage of almost 100,000 staff
  • Although 9% of adult social worker roles are unfilled in the UK, the adult social workers and adult care workers sector is one of the highest apprenticeship standards being procured by local authorities
  • New apprenticeships are starting to be approved and developed across the public sector including cybersecurity and IT apprenticeships

Although it takes time to develop the skills we desperately need in the public sector, these apprenticeships will have a dramatic impact on our key roles in the coming years. Therefore, it is important that we vocalise these opportunities and really consider the best ways to attract candidates into these types of apprenticeships.

We shouldn’t underestimate the impact the apprenticeship levy can have on our organisations if it’s utilised appropriately. It is likely to take several years and the work is still ongoing, but the public sector is proactively looking at ways to support the skill shortages in it's most critical areas and apprenticeships are most definitely playing a crucial part in it.

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