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Employers are confused by apprenticeships

Many people are lacking the essential skills of communication, team working and customer care, according to our learning, development and recruitment surveys. By John McGurk

Employers worry about the creation of the technical skills which will drive our economy in future. Apprenticeships may well provide the best solution to address youth unemployment and plug the current UK skills gap.

The government certainly expects a lot of apprenticeships. Roughly 40-50 per cent of young people don’t go to university and instead will be doing job-related training – a path which has stood the test of time. We have seen the grizzled eminence of Sir Alan Sugar fronting a campaign for apprentices and a high-profile network of ambassadors including Sir Alex Ferguson and Alan Titchmarsh who started their career journeys as apprentices.

There is overwhelmingly support for the government’s new apprenticeships targets. Most employers in our survey agree that there are clear business benefits in employing apprentices. Their concerns are around bureaucracy, cost and the difficulty of navigating the offers on apprenticeships. The government’s report on Unlocking Apprenticeship (2008) believes it has responded to these concerns. However the lack of employer awareness of reform suggests the message did not get through.

Awareness of these initiatives is pitifully low and the government has a major communications job ahead of it. Very few of those surveyed (7 per cent) knew much about the setting up of the new National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), for example, and about the same percentage knew of the service to match apprentices with employers.

Given that survey respondents are learning and development professionals who know about training, these results are disappointing. It suggests that the blizzard of government initiatives has tired the people most able to articulate the skills agenda.

The research clearly shows that on the whole, business is behind the government drive on apprenticeships. But for anything to really get off the ground the messages need to be clear and concise.

Expending efforts to make apprenticeships an easy option would not only address the long term skills shortage, but would also help to take some of pressure off the welfare system at a time when public expenditure is stretched to its limits.

John McGurk is learning, training and development adviser at CIPD

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