Job market | Are apprenticeships the answer?

Are apprenticeships the answer?
Are apprenticeships the answer?

Over the course of the pandemic, many employers have put the brakes on hiring. In fact, last year several firms including PwC, Tesla and Deloitte reportedly put a freeze on hiring.

Aside from hiring freezes, data also pointed towards a drop in available vacancies. For example, April 2020 data from Adzuna found that the number of advertised job vacancies slumped by 50% since the COVID-19 lockdown period started. With that in mind, it begs the question as to whether apprenticeships could be a good and viable way for employers to source the top talent that they need to succeed.

With National Apprenticeship Week taking place earlier this month (8th  to 14th February), a light has been shone on some of the work being done by employers and apprentices across the country. Many employers, including Amazon, Thames Water, BAE Systems and BT Group have announced plans to continue hiring apprentices in 2021 – which will provide new opportunity for apprentices to start their career but also for businesses in terms of securing talent for the future.

With this in mind, should businesses look to lean on apprentices in order to boost their talent pipelines, during a time where the jobs market is so volatile following the coronavirus pandemic?

BT announces plans to recruit more apprentices

It may be the case that employers are indeed leaning more towards apprenticeships when it comes to hiring during the coronavirus pandemic. This week for example, telecommunications firm BT Group announced plans to recruit more than 400 apprentices and graduates for its September uptake this year. These positions are said to be across diverse areas of the business including engineering, customer service, applied research and cyber-security.

Alison Wilcox, Group HR Director, BT Group, said that despite the uncertainties caused by the coronavirus crisis, the telecommunications firm has continued to attract and recruit “brilliant people from all walks of life into our business”. The firm’s HR lead added that BT Group values the diverse perspectives that apprentices can bring to the business.

Wilcox’s thinking dovetails with that of Ann Potterton, Head of Apprenticeships at BT Group, who told HR Grapevine that the firm has used apprenticeships as a platform to hire, develop and retain top talent for many years – something that is even more critical during this uncertain period of time. “Apprentices bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to our business, which we truly value,” she explained.

Potterton went on to explain that apprenticeships help the firm to grow their own talent in areas that they have identified future skills gaps, including areas such as digital and cyber security. “We also have a very high retention rate, with many apprentices staying and progressing throughout the company many years after their apprenticeship comes to an end,” she added. Yet, BT Group is not the only firm to have identified the benefits of hiring apprentices to source the talent that they need for the future.

‘Apprenticeships feed our talent pipeline’

Elsewhere, Premier Foods, a food manufacturer with brands such as Ambrosia, Bisto and Mr Kipling in its portfolio, has a number of people who have joined the firm in apprentice roles, with others in the process of upskilling on apprenticeship programmes. Speaking to HR Grapevine, Julie Harris, L&D Business Partner, Operations and Early Careers at Premier Foods, explained that apprenticeships are a good way to develop people while they are training on the job and can apply their new knowledge and skills to the role. “They help us to keep up-to-date with new learning methods, technologies and feed our talent pipeline,” Harris added.

In addition to this, the early careers lead said that the structure of apprenticeships makes it an appealing and accessible option which also enables Premier Foods to attract new talent to the business and continue developing teams. Harris added:

“By offering an apprenticeship programme, we can provide a structured, interesting and collaborative process for new starters to join our business and enter the fascinating world of the food industry."

As is clear, lots of companies in different sectors are continuing to offer apprenticeships for the many benefits that they can bring for both employers and apprentices. According to Euan Blair, Founder and CEO at Multiverse, the “powerful thing” about apprenticeships is that they can provide effective learning in areas where skills needs are the highest.

He told HR Grapevine: “Take data for example: the Government estimates there are over a hundred thousand unfilled data roles, and consequently it’s one of the fastest growing apprenticeships. Every organisation is grappling with the pace of digital transformation right now, and apprenticeships, both for new talent and reskilling existing talent, are an excellent way of meeting this challenge head on.”

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