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The future of apprentices

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Apprenticeships are increasingly being recognised as a viable route into a professional career by entry level talent and employers alike. But what does this hold for the future of apprentices?

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According to official figures, in 2016-17, 277,800 people completed an Apprenticeship in England – the highest number since comparable records began in 2002. Meanwhile, the proportion of higher and advanced level apprenticeships has climbed steadily from 37% in 2011-12 to 47 % in the last academic year.

Emerging talent 

Our own research mirrors this shifting tide. According to a recent poll of over 2,000 senior HR professionals carried out by Alexander Mann Solutions, a third of businesses (37%) believe apprentices will be the most valuable source of emerging talent in 2018. Previous research from Alexander Mann Solutions found that over two thirds (71%) of senior HR leaders believe the Apprenticeship Levy will ultimately create a new route into the workplace to supplement or rival graduate intake.

It’s no coincidence that this news comes following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2016 – an initiative which is designed to boost the number of young people entering vocational training – and despite the fact new apprenticeship starts reportedly dropped 59% immediately after its launch.

The fact that new apprenticeship starts fell by 59% since the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced is most likely indicative of how organisations are reassessing long-term needs, taking the time they need to plan, and implement new high-calibre programmes. In other words, it’s the calm before the storm. Last week’s announcement that the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has got the green light to deliver master’s degree apprenticeships in leadership and management is indicative of the change that is currently underway.

University applications decreasing 

UCAS reported last year that university applications have decreased by 4%, and while there will always be demand for graduate-level talent, HR Leaders are increasingly considering the benefits of developing talent in-house, where the role allows, as part of a wider total workforce strategy. Meanwhile, our own research revealed that 28% of respondents admitted that they were finding it more difficult to fill graduate roles this season, with just 12% reporting that sourcing and securing the relevant skills is currently easier than it has been in other cycles.

According to PwC’s latest survey of CEOs, 83% are worried about how to attract candidates with key skills, representing an increase of 12% since 2016. Against this backdrop, it’s unsurprising that HR leaders are reassessing where they source fresh talent. And while graduates continue to remain the preferred choice for many businesses, there are signs that this scope is widening. Employees who have travelled down the apprenticeship route are often considered to be more highly skilled, commercially aware and ‘work ready’ than their university-educated counterparts at the point of graduation. And at a time when organisations are increasingly having to match skills with rapidly advancing technology, on the ground training can ensure that talent is aligned with real-time business needs.

As one of our clients recently noted, the Apprenticeship Levy is bringing about the most fundamental change in our education system in a generation. As businesses become increasingly involved in shaping apprenticeship delivery, the benefit will be felt not only by individual firms, but also the wider UK workforce. Its introduction has put a spotlight on the sourcing and development of talent and how it can be more closely matched with organisational needs both now and in the foreseeable future.


Sandrine Miller, Head of Emerging Talent Consulting, Alexander Mann Solutions

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