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How can businesses make the most of apprenticeships?

Young people and businesses can mutually benefit from apprenticeships – but how can businesses attract and recruit this valuable talent pool?

National Apprenticeship Week (8 – 12 Feb) is a timely reminder of the value that apprenticeships can bring to young people, businesses and the economy.

With the latest figures from the London School of Economics showing that young people are twice as likely to lose their job compared to other workers during the pandemic, this annual milestone has arguably never been more needed or more welcome.

While many businesses are understandably currently focused on supporting their existing workforces and navigating the challenges of COVID-19, it’s important that companies are planning ahead for the skills that will be needed to fuel their future, post-pandemic growth.

Further reading:

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How to apply for the government’s Kickstart Scheme

Employers warned not to crowd-out apprenticeship opportunities for young people

Apprenticeships could play a vital role – enabling companies to develop a pipeline of talent, while also providing a source of much needed employment opportunities for young people up and down the country.

The government is currently offering businesses additional incentive payments for hiring new apprentices, which in the short to medium term may encourage some to consider offering programmes but in practice, apprenticeship schemes take time and work to establish.

So how can businesses begin to attract this talent pool, and how do you create an effective apprenticeship scheme that is beneficial for employer and employee alike?



Focus on future skills

Apprenticeship schemes can help equip new talent with sought-after skills in strategic areas, helping businesses to overcome the challenges of a highly competitive jobs market or where they face a particular skills shortage.

At EY for example, we hired 1,000 graduates and apprentices last summer and honoured all the conditional offers we made to students ahead of A-level results.

We plan to hire similar numbers this year and have expanded our range of apprenticeship opportunities, beyond the traditional accountancy routes, to include future growth areas such as digital innovation, technology, business leadership and risk compliance.

The intake for EY’s digital apprenticeship has grown steadily from four to approximately 32 per year over the last four years.


Long lasting workforce

As well as broadening skillsets, apprenticeships can help make an organisation’s workforce more sustainable. Home-grown talent is generally more likely to stay with a business for the long-term, often moving to different roles within the same company before looking at external opportunities.

It’s also worth thinking about existing employees and offering them the opportunity to upskill or retrain via an apprenticeship, which can increase staff loyalty.

All EY apprenticeships are open to both new and existing employees, alongside a variety of development opportunities including, a tech MBA, which focuses on technology, leadership and business skills.


Be an inclusive employer

This is a particularly pertinent issue at the moment due to the pandemic. Some students, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, may be facing additional challenges with home learning at the moment, such as not having access to resources, space for study or even a laptop, for example. Flexing entry requirements or simplifying recruitment processes could help to support these students.

Another approach is to set targets. Thirty per cent of the work experience places on the EY Foundation’s Smart Futures and Our Futures programmes will be offered to Black young people for the next five years from September 2021.

Additionally, we have set a target of offering at least 30% of places on its school leaver pathways to Black alumni from the Smart Futures and Our Futures programmes this year.



Go beyond on the job training


Beyond recruitment, companies need to consider how they are retaining and developing their apprentices. On and off-the-job learning, development of industry specific and transferable skills and behaviours, and achieving a recognised accreditation at the end of the apprenticeship, should mean talented recruits are trained in areas that will ultimately be beneficial to the business.

But, with more businesses working remotely, it can often be difficult to replicate learning that would naturally happen in an office environment – for example by watching or listening to how colleagues manage clients or stakeholders; taking advantage of on the spot mentoring; or simply helping a new hire feel at home.

At EY, we’ve identified six behaviours of on-the-job learning that can help all employees learn from and with each other. These behaviours, such as helping colleagues to expand their own networks or regularly picking up the phone to ‘check in’ need to be applied consciously and consistently when working remotely.

As we look ahead, an important part of how our economy prospers again in the long-term will be rooted in the success of our young talent and how we develop future skills. Apprenticeships can play an important role in that.


Justine Campbell is EY UK&I managing partner for talent