If you’ve been watching TV or listening to the radio in England these past few months, the chances are you’ll have seen the latest in an ongoing campaign from the UK Government to promote higher and degree apprenticeships. According to the Cabinet Office’s own analysis of the campaign up to 2016, the adverts were responsible for a 140 per cent year-on-year rise in enquiries to the National Apprenticeship Service helpdesk, while they also registered a 10 per cent rise amongst parents recommending the apprenticeship route to employment for their child.1
As public campaigns go, this now ranks among one of the best in recent years for recall and responses. But perhaps one shouldn’t be too surprised. Yes, apprenticeships are undoubtedly high on the UK Government’s agenda (and the aim of creating 3 million new apprenticeship starters during this parliament is on track), but they are also being increasingly recognised as an important route to high level skills by employers.
1. Driving up skills
According to the CBI Education and Skills Survey 2016, “Apprenticeships are a real business success story.” Why? Because high level skills matter and employers want to ensure they have the right skills not just for current roles but for jobs in the future as well.
By introducing degree apprenticeships in 2015, the UK Government created new routes to obtaining Level 6 and 7 qualifications – the same level as a full bachelor’s or master’s degree. This is benefiting employers as they are now able, for the first time, to provide apprenticeship training at a higher level, progressing staff from junior roles to senior roles while in work.
2. Good for the individual
For young people, new to the workforce, there are a number of positive outcomes (such as work experience, improved career prospects and the avoidance of student debt), which in turn is good news for employers looking to attract and recruit fresh talent. In addition, older staff, who are already part way into their careers and are looking to upskill and progress, are increasingly interested in apprenticeships too.
According to the Skills Funding Agency, 43 per cent of all new apprentices in 2015/16 were by people aged 25+. Of which, 11 per cent were over 60.2 This demonstrates the appetite people have to reskill and/or change careers, which in turn is good news for employers wanting to fill critical skills gaps.
3. Setting the standard
These shifts wouldn’t have been possible without employers shifting their perception of apprenticeships in parallel – and that’s where the new apprenticeship standards have helped. Trailblazers – groups of employers representing their sectors – have been given the responsibility of creating a set of standards, in England, that are aligned with specific occupational competencies.
Higher and degree apprenticeship standards (designed to raise and standardise the skill level and competency of a range of occupations) are helping businesses build a skills pipeline to fulfil future roles. Currently, there are 147 new standards approved for delivery but employers can look forward to as many as 1,600 by 2020.
4. Business investment
Lastly, there are other positive outcomes for organisations, in addition to skills development. An independent study commissioned by the UK Government, polling 555 decision-makers in organisations in England, found 59 per cent thought that apprenticeships were valuable because they gave them the ability to grow the business from the bottom up.3 The research also found that a third of employers thought apprentices were more loyal than other types of employees, creating lower recruitment costs as a result.
What’s more, employers are experiencing further benefits as a result of offering and training apprenticeships. According to research commissioned by the Department for Education, surveying 4,000 employers, the top three improvements were cited as: productivity (76 per cent), product/service quality (75 per cent) and staff morale (73 per cent).4
The proof is in the numbers. In 2015/16, there were 509,400 apprenticeship starts (of all levels) in England – an increase of 9,500 more than the previous year.5 In terms of Higher Apprenticeships, more than 11,000 were started between August 2015 and January 2016, bringing the total to over 30,000.6 Are apprenticeships growing in popularity? It certainly looks that way…
 Government Communication Service, ‘Campaign Highlights 2015/16
 Skills Funding Agency, Apprenticeships geography, equality & diversity and sector subject area: starts 2002/03 to 2015/16
 Department for Education, Apprenticeships Evaluation 2015 – Employers, October 2016
 House of Commons Briefing Paper, Apprenticeship Statistics: England, November 2016