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Apprenticeships vital to build the workforce of the future, research finds

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Apprenticeships are essential to help build a sustainable workforce and get more people into employment, according to a report published today by learndirect and Cranfield School of Management.

Nurturing Talent: building the workforce of the future, outlines how more needs to be done to promote the value of vocational education and the vital role employers should play in this.

Despite concerns over skills shortages in the UK, more than two-thirds of UK firms (70%) surveyed for the report have not taken any steps to address potential skills shortages in the labour market forecast in 10-20 years' time.

Apprenticeships can play a huge part in helping to tackle the issue, but only 7% of business leaders from companies employing apprentices found it easy to find suitable young people for the roles.

Despite these challenges, the research, discovered more than a fifth of firms (21%) employ apprentices, of which 32% said the training schemes were an effective way of addressing shortages of technical skills.

However, the report highlights young people's lack of basic skills. Almost a third (30%) of the business leaders surveyed said English literacy and language skills among non-graduates aged under 25 was poor, while more than a fifth (21%) said their maths abilities were insufficient for employment. The inability of young people to communicate effectively was also cited by a quarter (25%) of business decision makers, while 28% said that the general attitude of young people was an issue.

In order to support the Government in its drive to reduce youth unemployment, more than half of the business leaders surveyed (54%) said they needed further support to improve the basic English and maths skills of young people.

Deborah Rosado, director of proposals and stakeholder management at learndirect, said: "Like the Government, employers recognise when done well, apprenticeships can equip firms with the skills they desperately need. However, if apprenticeships are to help businesses meet the changing needs of the UK economy, which was an important element of the Richard Review, young people should have the basic skills needed for work."

Despite the difficulties the research highlights, there is overwhelming support for apprenticeships among business leaders, 75% of who agreed with the Government's focus on the schemes.

More than a third of apprentice-employers (34%) agree they could plan to promote their trainees through their organisation, indicating they believe the training schemes are crucial for their talent pipeline, and 32% believe apprenticeships help with employee retention.

The survey shows it is not only traditional industries, such as construction, taking advantage of the traineeships but increasingly white collar professions such as the financial sector (23% of which run apprenticeship schemes).

Emma Parry, reader in human resource management at Cranfield and the report's author explained the benefits of apprenticeships to companies:

"Apprenticeships are not just about helping employers to access the skills they need to be successful, although they can certainly do this. The evidence suggests the use of apprenticeships can also lead to improved employee morale, commitment and retention, lower recruitment costs and can also allow an organisation to develop a reputation as a good employer."