It has not yet hit the headlines but it should. Apprenticeships have changed – indeed very radically – opening up new opportunities to university graduates and mid-career workers alike.
We used to think of apprenticeships as an alternative to university for school leavers; a way to gain valuable work experience and qualifications without racking up student debt. But the system has now been revamped to open up new opportunities to the entire workforce to learn new skills or change career direction altogether. Workers of all ages and at all stages of their career can now do apprenticeships, whether they have a university degree or not. Moreover, the apprenticeships now on offer range from level 2 (semi-skilled) to level 7 (the equivalent of a masters degree).
This has to be good news in particular for recent university graduates struggling to get a foothold in the job market, and it has to be good news for the country as a whole. Artificial intelligence, robotics and other advanced technologies are transforming our economy and our world of work very rapidly indeed. Many in our current workforce simply do not have the new skills needed whilst sectors such as technology and engineering have significant skills shortages.
The government hopes to get up to 3 million apprentices learning new skills by 2020.
We need a better understanding of how companies are revamping their hiring and training practices in response to these changes. It stands to reason, however, that companies will use the apprenticeship scheme to hire more graduates and to retrain their existing workforce. After all, large companies have to pay the equivalent of 0.5% of their payroll into an apprenticeship fund and naturally would want to recoup this cost. Smaller companies would want to benefit from the 90% – 100% contribution the government makes to the cost of training apprentices.
The new system will have teething challenges. Some companies are reportedly unhappy with the increased cost and complexity they face. So it is a matter of “watch this space” for a while. But clearly, the new system of apprenticeships open up potentially valuable new opportunities to recent graduates and mid-career workers alike, and warrant a close look.
But be careful. Workers rights groups have suggested in the past that low quality apprenticeships have been used by unscrupulous employers as a source of cheap labour. We would like to think this is no longer the case. Indeed, the Institute of Apprenticeships was established last year with a view to putting quality at the heart of the new system. But you should always do your own research and ensure that the high quality work experience and training you want and need are genuinely on offer.