How are apprenticeships addressing the UK’s skills gap?
Prior to the pandemic, a staggering 88% of businesses in manufacturing alone reported skills shortages.3 In our 2020 Transformation with Tech report, almost half of businesses we surveyed said they’d have ceased trading without digital infrastructure to fall back on. Skills gaps have become wider and more exposed during the pandemic, leading to West Midlands Mayor Andy Street in our Big Conversations series describing the need to address this as ‘mission critical’.
The ingredients that make apprenticeships so unique in the world of skills are adaptability and relevance. And against this backdrop of uncertainty, apprentices have shown resilience, creativity, and eagerness to apply their learning at a time of great need. Between new young talent thriving on our audit programmes to colleagues who have been with the Group for some time, 800 of our colleagues rekindled their love for learning by starting their apprenticeship journey. Almost 500 completed successfully, with well over a third of these achieving merit or distinction grades.
Stories quickly emerged of how our apprentices applied their skills for the benefit of our customers. Level 3 apprentice Hollie Hannah demonstrated incredible empathy carrying out hundreds of wellbeing calls with vulnerable and lonely customers. Level 4 apprentice Ann-Fernee made a vital contribution to the protection of customers against the inevitable rise in online fraud attempts. Apprentices proved time and again that this is a very special mix of learning and execution and we have benefitted greatly as a Group from their skills and energy.
Our firm belief in the power of apprenticeships extends to our levy sharing initiative where we support businesses in their apprentice journey underwriting the costs of apprenticeship tuition. Despite the gloomy economic and jobs outlook, in 2020 we have helped over 250 businesses and 450 apprentices start their learning journey in critical areas of skill gaps in science, technology engineering and digital disciplines; new jobs and vital reskilling our country for the journey that lies ahead. Sharing our experience, lending reassurance, backing ambition, fueling regrowth.
Who can apply for an apprenticeship?
2020 was also a year when our sense and understanding of inclusivity has been challenged. Apprenticeships have again demonstrated their power and potential to raise individuals above social and societal disadvantage and prejudice. Sabreen Anwar stepped beyond cultural expectations of what was considered to be a suitable job for an Asian woman to achieve success in software development and engineering. Vicki McRae proved age is no impediment by starting her level 4 apprenticeship aged 50 and has since gone on to complete her level 5. Jackson Thirgood transitioned from a background in customer service and operational leadership to train in software engineering demonstrating apprenticeships’ critical place in reskilling the UK.
In a year when many of us have felt stretched and pulled in multiple directions, our commitment to a culture of learning and improvement has not slowed. Lloyds Banking Group apprentices notched up nearly half a million hours of learning in 2020 and applied their learning to some of the challenges of the pandemic in areas of fraud and protecting vulnerable customers.
Apprentices embody a spirit of learning and many coach the development of others inside and outside our organization. James Walters, winner of our Higher Apprentice of the Year award, has volunteered his time to present to Armed Forces personnel coming towards the end of their service, arranging shadowing days and helping preparation for this important transition into civilian life.
Apprenticeships vs university
Although numbers of students at university has risen greatly in the last decade we’ve become more aware of colleagues who, for diverse reasons - be it challenging social or cultural backgrounds, devoting themselves to raising a family - missed out on the opportunity yet always harboured a sense of “what if”?
Though we see hundreds of colleagues achieve their aspirations through apprenticeships, every story is unique and important to the individual and their families, every apprenticeship is an opportunity for our colleagues at whatever age or stage in their career to test themselves and aspire to become their best. In doing so they become the role models that aspire others in our organization to look forward, keep developing and helps us embed a learning culture.
The debate of the past few years has sought to compare apprenticeships with a traditional university education – to place one style of learning against another and perhaps drawing us into picking a winner. Increasingly we’ve seen through 2020 that the UK needs and needs to value both systems to provide diverse pathways for our young people who will leave school in increasing numbers across this decade and need diversity of learning environments to be able to thrive and find their place in society.
The recent Further Education White Paper4 signals an intent to place employers at the heart of skills development, a recognition of regional excellence and diversity and supporting adults in the pursuit of life-long learning. Apprenticeships, T-levels5 and traineeships support different styles of learning, yet for this change to happen, parents and students need support and reassurance from schools, colleges and employers of the value of apprenticeships as a specific destination in its own right.
Tradition and culture are not easily changed. Our colleague Asim, encouraged by his parents to ‘do the right thing’ and go to university found it was not the experience he’d hoped for. He is now thriving as an infrastructure technician apprentice, a job he might have hoped to apply for on graduation. This positive experience persuaded his parents to allow Asim’s brother to apply for an apprenticeship with the NHS – in which he is also now thriving. For these reasons in National Apprenticeship week we host sessions for students and parents to provide that reassurance so that talented individuals find the learning environment that will suit them best.