Apprenticeships: the best way to address the skills shortage

Posted on 18 Oct 2023 by Joe Bush

There are many study options available to young people after leaving school. The two most popular study routes are university and apprenticeships - which both offer unique benefits depending on personal goals, learning preferences, and career aspirations.

However, while the UK is facing talent shortages across multiple sectors, apprenticeships have been shown to support the current skills shortage, and be a positive way to boost an organisation’s performance, meaning that businesses should be doing more to attract talent and offer better opportunities for younger people.

Fabrication and extraction specialists Airmatic, which offer its own range of skilled apprenticeships and currently have four apprentices on board – which marks its highest number to date – wanted to take a look at why boosting application figures could be the needed answer to the ongoing skill shortages UK industries are facing.

Addressing the skills shortage

In 2023 The UK Trade Skills Index revealed that construction and trade vacancies are now at record highs, with over 940,000 recruits needed in construction and trades over next ten years.

Although there are still misconceptions around apprenticeships, 98% of businesses said that they carried additional benefits within their organisation, finding that apprenticeship holders outperform the wider labour market as a cost-effective labour resource all the while addressing skills shortages, increasing diversity and delivering higher levels of productivity and staff retention.

Meeting a growing demand

Although we are finding that interest in apprenticeships is high, there are not enough vacancies being advertised to meet growing demand. From their latest 2023 application figures, UCAS highlighted that 40% of students interested in undergraduate study were also interested in apprenticeship options – a 180% increase since 2021.

In July 2023, the British government announced six ways that they were looking to widen access to apprenticeships – one of which was introducing more than 670 high-quality and degree apprenticeships in a wide range of sectors including nursing, engineering, law, science and NHS medical courses.

Based on statistics provided by, for the academic year of 2022/23 the largest apprenticeship subjects of choice were in health, public services and care (~80,000), business, administration and law (~75,000), engineering and manufacturing technologies (~40,000), followed by retail and commercial enterprise (~22,000), and construction, planning and the built environment (~20,000).

The rise in popularity

Younger people’s perceptions towards apprenticeships are changing. These programmes are increasingly being recognised as an equally valuable option for career development, especially for those who are being drawn to the practical approach to learning, rather than the theoretical side of traditional undergraduate courses.

Since May 2015 there have been 3,157,480 apprenticeship starts, and although the 2022/23 academic year saw a 4.6% drop from the previous year due to COVID-19 delays, apprenticeship achievements increased by 20.1% to 105,600 compared to 87,920 reported for the same period, demonstrating that more apprentices are staying on and for longer periods of time.

Under 19s accounted for 24.8% of starts (68,290), which furthers why investment into younger people is important, as businesses have the opportunity to train someone to use their specific practices from scratch and mould them into their ideal candidate, encouraging progress and advancement in their field.

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