As Greater Manchester – and indeed the rest of the UK – begins its recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s going to be more important than ever for businesses of all shapes and sizes to have the right skills within them to meet future demand and drive organisations forward.
Whilst many businesses have had to furlough staff or even make redundancies, a strong, skilled and resilient workforce is going to be absolutely crucial if the economy is to bounce back and companies are to weather the storm. And, it’s already clear that apprenticeships are going to play a pivotal part in bridging skills gaps and ensuring that businesses can get through this challenging phase which lies ahead.
The impact of COVID-19 on apprenticeships
According to a recent report from the Sutton Trust, it’s suggested that around two-thirds of apprentices have missed out on learning or work experience because of COVID-19, with more than a third being furloughed and 8% being made redundant. 17% also had their off-the-job learning suspended.
These statistics are very alarming, because not only will the situation lead to the widening of existing skills gaps, it also means that career aspirations could be dashed for many of our city-region’s young people.
Welcoming the Government’s ‘apprenticeship guarantee’
As Managing Director of the Growth Company Education & Skills, I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of the ‘apprenticeship guarantee’. According to the promise made by the PM, everyone aged between 16 and 25 will have access to an apprenticeship, providing they have the right qualifications to meet the entry requirements.
Funded by the £3 billion skills budget which was announced in the Conservative’s manifesto at the last general election, the funding would cover cost of training each apprentice.
Under the proposed scheme, once an apprentice has been placed into a relevant business or social enterprise, the Department for Education must ensure that the learner is able to progress from a Level 2 qualification right the way through to degree level.
Given that young people are set to be some of the hardest hit in terms of unemployment and lack of career opportunities as a result of COVID-19, this is something which I very much support. It’s today’s young people that are going to become the next generation of business leaders, so guaranteed apprenticeships – with guaranteed progression – are an excellent pathway to help 16-25-year-olds work their way up from an entry-level position to a management or even director-level role.
One of the great things about apprenticeships is that the learning is hands-on, meaning students gain the skills and knowledge that they can put into practice straight away in a real work environment – and instantly make a positive difference to business performance and productivity. Let’s be honest, anything that boosts the bottom line of organisations as we navigate a post-COVID world, has got to be something worth investing in and implementing at speed.
Using apprenticeships to overcome business challenges
As organisations up and down the country emerge from the pandemic, there is no doubt that there will be a number of challenges around skills needs both in the short, medium and long-term.
Due to the current climate, businesses may have been forced to reshape and rethink their plans for the future to ensure maximum growth and longevity. This may mean having to grow particular teams, retrain staff in alternative areas or introduce whole new skillsets altogether.
Bringing in apprentices – or using apprenticeships to develop skills within an existing workforce – is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure that you have the right people in your organisation to adapt to inevitable changes that will have to be made to keep your business competitive and profitable in what can seem like an uncertain landscape.
Bringing in fresh, young talent also opens businesses up to new perspectives, ideas and insights. Innovation is going to be key in helping companies to move forward beyond the COVID crisis, so there’s never been a better time to recruit a young person. It’s a win-win situation, as you’ll be supporting their development and kickstarting their career, whilst they’ll be helping to drive forward the growth of your organisation.
Building a brighter future for our young people and our economy
Despite uncertainty as we navigate through the challenges of economic recovery, we must remain optimistic and not underestimate the power of apprenticeships in building back our businesses to their former glory.
The announcement from the Prime Minister will help to reduce our skills deficit and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to make a career for themselves – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the initiative will boost apprenticeship uptake and positively impact the economy as we take tentative steps towards a brighter future for all.