The skills gap is growing & apprenticeships aren’t yet pulling their weight

Posted on 3 May 2018 by The Manufacturer

Christopher Greenough says much better understanding of apprenticeships is needed from the government downwards, together with a change in the way Sixth Form education is funded.

Apprenticeships are neither cheap labour, nor a stop-gap while you find out what you want to do as a career.
An apprenticeship is neither cheap labour, nor a stop-gap while you find out what you want to do as a career.

The Apprenticeship Levy, introduced last year, was the government’s response to business saying they wanted to take the lead in skills provision, but it is clearly falling far short of its aim of providing three million apprentices by 2020 – indeed, recruitment is down by 27%.

Businesses find it confusing and bureaucratic, and are opting out of the process.

I wrote an open letter to Parliament last year, which featured on their website, predicting there were problems ahead. It gives me no pleasure to see my warnings were justified.


At the heart of the problem is a misconception by government, business, schools and even young people as to just what an apprenticeship is.

First, it is neither cheap labour, nor a stop-gap while you find out what you want to do as a career.

Second, it is not what you do if you are failing in mainstream education.

An apprenticeship is a full time, employed role. You work for a business and get to know them, their employees and what they expect from you.

You get more money when you learn more, and progress in terms of age and experience. You can progress through the apprenticeship route to end up with a degree, but the key point is you will get a degree, but with no loan to pay back.

Employers, particularly smaller ones, need to understand their responsibilities too.

The apprenticeship route is therefore the very best way to get a career in engineering and manufacturing, where the average pay is significantly higher than in the service sector.

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What should an employer expect? They want hard work and a commitment to learn. If you are failing at school because you do not want to learn and increase your skills, then you will probably fail at an apprenticeship.

An apprenticeship is a commitment to the business that employs you, but also to yourself.

Woodwork Apprenticeship Levy Apprenticeships Figures Skills - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
The only way we can close the skills gap is to engage and enthuse, inspire and impart – – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

I spend a lot of time explaining this to teachers and schools, but those schools that have a sixth form centre see it as a direct challenge to their funding stream, because they are paid a premium by the government for every pupil they attract into A levels.

They literally have a vested interest in not encouraging apprenticeships. Unless government reforms this funding policy – aimed at pushing children towards university whether they are suited to it or not – apprenticeships will always be undervalued as an option.


What I try to get across to schools is that if I take 10 students into my factory for a visit, and nine of them are averse to the manufacturing environment because of the visit, they will probably work harder at school to achieve their academic end goal.

But if one youngster is engaged and enthused, they may well decide an apprenticeship is for them. The point is that all 10 of these students are now better informed about the choices they face for their futures.

What it boils down to is that the only way we can close the skills gap is to engage and enthuse, inspire and impart. We need to make sure we educate all youngsters about all the routes available, to help them make the best of their opportunities.

We need a national marketing campaign to educate, enthuse and engage youngsters, parents, teachers and all other stakeholders that an apprenticeship route is the very best way for some youngsters to fulfill their potential.

They just need clear signposts to show them how to get there.

Apprentices Comment - Christopher Greenough, commercial director, Salop Design & Engineering.

Christopher Greenough

Member of The Manufacturer’s Editorial Advisory Board, and commercial director at Salop Design & Engineering Ltd.