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Do Apprenticeships hold the key to Levelling Up the UK?

David Phillips – Managing Director, City & Guilds and ILM

David Phillips – Managing Director, City & Guilds and ILM


The Levelling Up agenda outlined by the government has been devised to address stark inequalities across the country, both geographically and in terms of people’s social and economic backgrounds.

London and the South-East remain the wealthiest areas with a highly educated, highly skilled workforce and well-paying jobs, with many other parts of the country left behind.

In their February whitepaper, the government outlined the steps that they intend to take to address these inequalities, with a focus on improving transport infrastructure, creating well paid jobs to boost salaries and living standards across the UK and rolling out high speed broadband nationwide.

These goals are certainly laudable and ambitious, and achieving them will depend, in no small part, on ensuring that people have access to the skills and training necessary to develop infrastructure and to take on the highly skilled jobs that the government aims to create.

We know that many of the sectors essential to meeting the infrastructure goals of the Levelling Up agenda are facing significant skills shortages, with more new job openings set to appear in the coming years.

In addition to playing a vital role in developing the infrastructure needed to achieve the government’s Levelling Up goals, these sectors also have the potential to offer sustainable, well-paying jobs with the potential for career progression and professional development.

The role of apprenticeships

The question, of course, is how to equip people with the skills needed to fill them?

Apprenticeships have historically been an effective way for people, particularly those from deprived backgrounds, to achieve higher wages and social mobility, as well as creating a talent pipeline for key industries and sectors. However, since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, this career pathway has actually become less accessible for many people.

The vital role of apprenticeships in addressing inequality is arguably becoming even more important in light of the rising cost of university education (£9,250 per year), excluding many from low-income backgrounds who are wary of taking on debt early in their careers. Apprenticeships, offering the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’ represent a valuable alternative offering financial security and strong career prospects.

At City & Guilds we have been championing apprenticeships for many years, and fully supported the switch to employer led standards in 2017.  Since then we have supported, assessed and certified over 40,000 apprentices in conjunction with colleges, training providers and employers.  Central to our approach is to help and support our delivery partners to provide each apprentice with the resources they need from start to finish.  By offering a range of digital learning and assessment preparation resources, we are able to provide apprentices the best chance of success.  

Success stories:

Lewis Postlethwaite – Started with Gen2 in 2006 as a Mechanical Apprentice

Lewis Postlethwaite is a determined individual who started his career as a mechanical apprentice at Gen2 at 16 and has gone on to have an amazing engineering career across the world, despite being diagnosed with dyslexia.

Following his completion of a 2 year apprenticeship programme with Gen2 where he developed his fundamental engineering skills, Lewis went on to complete an ONC, HNC and HND before going on to complete a four year master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

From there he went on to secure a position on the Morgan Advanced Materials graduate programme, a role which took him first to North Wales, then onto the USA and currently to South Korea where he is working as a technology manager.

Lewis is an example of what can be achieved through drive and determination and the potential apprenticeships have of helping people into outstanding careers.

Reskilling opportunities for a broader range of Adult workers

If the Levelling Up goal of tackling economic inequality is to be achieved, then apprenticeships will have to offer an accessible route to a better future for people from all economic and social backgrounds. A review of the current Levy system to expand the use of funds to include other forms of workplace training would be an effective way to open up opportunities for a wider range of people.

Apprenticeships are, of course, not the only potential solution when it comes to equipping the workforce with the skills needed to tackle the levelling up agenda.

Particularly for older workers in declining industries who are looking to move into a new sector, long term training which is either unpaid or paying a lower wage may not be suitable. In addition, people in this position may well have extensive skills and experience which can be applied to a new industry with relatively little additional training.

City & Guilds ‘Step Into’ courses and our wider Skills Bridges initiative aim to cater to people in this position, offering them the opportunity to acquire sector specific skills to build on their existing experience. These courses are delivered in a bite-size formant and make use of hybrid classroom and online learning to make them as accessible as possible while still offering valuable face to face training.

This kind of bite-size training to help people develop key sector-specific skills and knowledge is particularly important when considering the findings of our Great Jobs report. Older workers, those aged 55+, were the least likely to feel positive regarding the skills they had attained offering them positive future career prospects (44%). The same group was the most likely to have gone more than 10 years without receiving any workplace training.

Efforts and funding to create career paths for younger people will form a vital part of achieving the government’s levelling up goals. However, older workers must not be neglected when it comes to putting pathways in place to develop the skills to transition into growing industries. Short-term, accessible training can provide a vital stepping-stone towards achieving this.

Short, sharp learning interventions – introducing Skills Bootcamps

Skills Bootcamps offer a similar short-form approach to equipping people with skills to provide them with a leg-up into high-demand sectors, or to enable employed people to upskill themselves to qualify for a higher-skilled role. Again, these provide a training solution for people who are not in a financial position to take on longer-term full time training, while still providing skills training in high growth technical fields, such as electric vehicle maintenance, construction and retrofitting.

Our own Rail Bootcamps, delivered in partnership with South Rail Systems Alliance, have helped learners to develop core competencies in the rail industry, with roles such as Plant Operator, Trackman and Track Operative available for learners who completed and passed the assessment.  With the government’s ambitious plans to develop infrastructure and transport links as one of the key goals of the Levelling Up agenda, these short, intensive courses have the potential to train people with the necessary skills to achieve them as well as helping them move into well paid, sustainable careers.

Fostering social mobility

If the issue of economic inequality across the UK is to be successfully tackled, then a strong skills foundation will be vital to growing the industries and creating the infrastructure that can achieve this goal. Apprenticeships have played a vital historic role in fostering social mobility and growing regional industries, and they have the potential to do so again. By adopting hybrid digital delivery, not only for apprenticeships but for other short-form training, in tandem with a review of the funding model for skills training to ensure that it is truly available for all, the Levelling Up agenda can be made a reality.

To learn more about how City & Guilds can support you with apprenticeships visit www.cityandguilds.com/apprenticeships

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