Can apprenticeships help future-proof your workforce?

?Apprenticeships are one of the many ways companies can increase entry routes into their profession or industry

They can help a business to grow and diversify the talent they recruit and support a culture that values innovation at all levels of the company.

In EY's experience, individuals, such as school leavers, who have chosen to pursue their career choice through an apprenticeship are energetic, driven and bring a fresh perspective to our organisation.

Notably, the new definition of an apprenticeship under the recent government reforms, has taken the term back to its roots – including both on and off-the-job learning, developing industry specific and transferable skills and behaviours, and achieving a recognised accreditation at the end – which reinforces their benefits as an employment route.

In recent years there has been an increase in the variety of apprenticeships available across the UK.

Embracing the trend, businesses can get ahead of the curve by identifying and offering different types of schemes that diversify, upskill and strengthen the capabilities of their employees in strategic areas. For instance, apprenticeships can help to build data and digital skills to help future-proof a workforce.

In professional service, there is a rising need for STEM skills. The traditional roles that the profession is known for, including audit and tax, are now being complemented by data analysis, cyber security and software development, which is being driven by our clients who are keen to react to digital disruption in their industry.

Responding to that demand we have expanded the number of schemes we offer to include, for example, a digital degree apprenticeship. The scheme appeals to students interested in a career in technology with strengths in that field.

It explores the use of artificial intelligence and other innovative technologies that will help to prepare our business for the future. In turn that has sparked spin-off schemes, including a risk and compliance apprenticeship to help regulate the growing role technology plays in ours and our clients’ business. Our number of apprentices, and the programmes we offer as a result, continues to grow year-on-year.

As well as broadening the skillset of a workforce, apprenticeships can also help to sustain one. We find that home-grown talent, joining us early on in their career, are more likely to stay at EY, even if they move onto new roles within the business.

Focussed on learning and development, they are keen to take advantage of the multiple opportunities that EY offers for as long as they can. And, for us, our apprentices are the future leaders of our business which is why we invest in them.

Apprentices can also be individuals of any age, who have work experience but are looking to upskill in a new industry or have a career change.

This has been a vital difference in the definition of an apprentice in recent years, which provides employers with broader opportunities to ensure an organisation has the skills it requires to remain competitive.

A key takeaway to offer businesses considering offering apprenticeships is - support it with strategy. Match the programme you plan to offer with the skills that you know will be needed in the future. That way you can demonstrate the commercial value of investing in them.

It is also important to identify the right ‘partner’ to support you in achieving your strategy - the right training provider who can and will work with you to ensure the programme meets the needs of your business.

The question to answer, for any business considering offering apprenticeships, is “what skills do we need to build within our workforce that we don’t have currently, but will need in the next few years?”

It’s a must to also think beyond when they have completed their programme, i.e. what is their future career path? What other projects or initiatives could benefit from their perspective? For example, they may be able to provide valuable insight with regards to diversity initiatives or other key strategies.

For EY, there is no doubt that apprentices will help to shape our business and the skills we will need in the future. Ultimately, the more experience and opportunity you can offer an apprentice, the greater long-term value they can bring to an organisation.

Laura Keen is apprenticeship leader at EY UK&I