AI, soft skills and bespoke training: Six predictions for apprenticeships in 2024

Following a year of political and technological changes to the education landscape, Jonathan Fitchew addresses the future of apprenticeships

Following a year of political and technological changes to the education landscape, Jonathan Fitchew addresses the future of apprenticeships

16 Dec 2023, 5:00

The past twelve months have been transformational, with the explosion of AI and uncertainties surrounding the apprenticeship levy raising questions around the future of apprenticeships. Here are my predictions for what could be around the corner in 2024.

AI as a teaching aide

OpenAI introduced ChatGPT in November 2022, and since then it has shaken up the education sector and given us a glimpse at the future of learning. Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT excel as an educational sidekick, and we see apprenticeships being one of the sectors set to benefit the most.

Existing apprenticeship curriculums dictate that apprentices should divide their time between working and studying. With AI, these activities could be integrated into a cohesive learning strategy as the algorithm learns your schedule, workload and particular learning style. LLMs can adapt to almost any knowledge level, responding instantly and accurately to queries, generating their own relevant questions and adjusting their methods to complement your skills. They are also available 24/7, all year round.

For training providers, offering learners an informed and relatively inexpensive virtual tutor that supports their students individually will be a welcome resource. If 2023 is anything to go by, apprentices are set to become very familiar with AI in 2024.

More growth for bespoke apprenticeships

For many employers the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach to apprenticeships is starting to transform into a model of specialised courses, tailored to the company’s unique requirements. By guiding learning towards their specific business needs and values, employers can create a common knowledge base and culture.

Allowing apprentices to focus on areas directly relevant to their industry also creates a more engaging and effective learning environment that directly translates into more relevant skills, improved career readiness and better job satisfaction. Training providers are already offering this type of course as a recruitment solution, so we can expect their continued growth into 2024.

Changes to the levy

The apprenticeship levy has been a subject of political debate for a few years, with both major parties differing in their approach. Labour has produced a fully-fledged proposal to transform the existing arrangement into the ‘Growth and Skills’ levy, recommending the creation of a new expert body called Skills England and permitting firms to spend 50 per cent of their contributions on non-apprenticeship training, including modular courses and functional skills.

This proposal does present a risk to the apprenticeship sector, with the Department for Education forecasting that it would limit apprenticeship uptake to 140,000 a year, down from 336,000 in the 2022/2023 academic year. In response to this concern, Labour has also promised an additional spending commitment for apprenticeships in SMEs.

Ultimately, the exact future of the government’s role in apprenticeship funding remains to be seen, and largely depends on the specific details of the policy implementation.

More emphasis on soft skills

Recent data suggests a growing concern about the soft skills gap among university graduates as they transition into their professional careers. With our workplaces becoming increasingly technical, soft skills like presenting, communicating, emotional intelligence and teamwork can be neglected. Additionally, AI’s ability to execute sophisticated or routine tasks makes human-centric soft skills more necessary.

Apprenticeships, traditionally valued for their practical, hands-on approach to learning, are well positioned to bridge this gap because apprentices develop their on-the-job skills in conjunction with their technical education.

More technically skilled teachers needed

With our workplace technology becoming more complex, apprenticeship educators will require more technical proficiency to educate apprentices to business-ready standards. Teaching is continually made more difficult by the intense rate of technological development, requiring educators to frequently upskill.

We can fulfil these technical labour requirements by commissioning industry-expert trainers or partnering with cutting-edge private sector firms to assist in keeping curriculum delivery up to speed.

Changing demand for skills

As we noted last year, proficiency in digital and technical skills like data analysis, software development and digital marketing will become increasingly essential. This is still the case, with 27 per cent of the workforce lacking sufficient digital skills. As AI utilisation becomes mainstream, employers will require skills that complement and enhance the technology, so expect to see new apprenticeship opportunities arise in this area in 2024.

So here’s to another busy year for the sector. Happy new year!

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