Apprenticeship Insights for Organisations

Are Apprenticeships the Answer to Closing the Skills Gap?

Paul Brown
10.02.23

February 6 to 12 marks National Apprenticeship Week in the UK. More and more young people have been choosing apprenticeship programmes over college degrees. According to UK government data an estimated 613,900 people participated in apprenticeship programmes in 2021/22, recording a 3.3% increase from the previous year. This is not surprising when considering rising university fees compounded with the cost-of-living crisis.

College tuition fees in the UK cost an average of £9,250 per year. With added living expenses this can rack up over £50k in student debt at the end of three years.

Apprenticeship programmes provide the opportunity to earn and learn. Apprentices gain work experience, learning the practical workplace skills that they need in their chosen fields, whilst earning a salary and getting a fully-funded degree at the end of the apprenticeship. Still, the apprenticeship vs university debate rages on.

However, with generative AI tech touted to disrupt conventional education as we know it, apprenticeships and vocational training need more deliberation.

Let’s consider ChatGPT

Developed by research lab OpenAI, ChatGPT is a freely accessible AI chatbot that can write articles, essays, poems and even computer codes in a few seconds. According to OpenAI, ‘We’ve trained a model called ChatGPT which interacts in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.’

ChatGPT was launched in November 2022 and we’re only just beginning to grasp its capabilities – from lawyers using GPT to write legal summaries to its accuracy in predicting early signs of dementia.

Opinion is divided on ChatGPT’s potential for the learning and development space especially in the context of the future of training. Some predict it becoming a ubiquitous resource like Wikipedia whilst others warn of the tool being misused by students. Some college professors are concerned that students are passing off GPT-generated content as their own.

This then raises significant concerns about the veracity of a student’s university education and the real knowledge they have gained. This also makes a stronger case for vocational training and apprenticeship programmes where apprentices receive hands-on training that can’t be substituted by an AI-powered chatbot.

Dylan Bruton joined the FDM Apprenticeship Programme just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK. Talking about his decision to pursue an apprenticeship he says, ‘This apprenticeship has helped me in ways that a standard degree wouldn’t. I have been able to understand the implementation of topics we do in the classroom. Instead of only being told that things are done in a certain way by a lecturer, I am able to see in the workplace why it is done this way. I think being able to learn and work at the same time gives you a deeper understanding of what you are taught. Having a practical aspect is an advantage over pure theory.’

Apprenticeships produce net new talent

87% of companies are currently experiencing skills gaps or expect to have them in the next few years. According to a recent report by the Learning & Work Institute, 92% of organisations state that digital skills are key to success, helping to drive growth, innovation and productivity. Of those surveyed, 23% of employers admit that their existing workforce lacks basic digital skills. The significance of this on organisations is evident: two-thirds of employers believe that a lack of digital skills will affect the profitability of their business.

Apprenticeships are an excellent way for organisations to build a workforce with Net New Talent that is custom-made to meet specific business needs. The training and development of this Net New Talent can simultaneously fill the digital skills gap, provide opportunities to under-represented sections of society and regulate cost to companies. According to data from GOV.UK, 86% of employers say that apprenticeship programmes enabled them to develop skills relevant to their organisation.

There are several benefits of apprenticeships for businesses so it’s important for organisations, trade bodies and the government to encourage young talent to enrol.

Apprentices split their time 80:20 between working and studying. This means working in a company four days a week, getting on-the-job training and learning practical skills from mentors. They also have one day each week to attend college for academic learning that will complement their job.

Apprentices are legally obliged to work for a minimum of 30 hours and a maximum of 48 hours per week. This includes their time studying at college. The maximum work hours are restricted to 30 for those under 18.  

FDM Apprenticeship Programme

At FDM we recognise the value that apprentices bring and have been successfully running our apprenticeship programme – a unique three to four- year opportunity that combines work and training, while being paid a salary. At the end of the programme, apprentices earn a BSc Digital Tech Solutions degree.

Vincent Boardman is currently doing a degree apprenticeship here at FDM. He says he’s gained ‘programming knowledge, leadership skills, communication and other soft skills on the programme.’

Our apprentices have the opportunity to work with clients on live projects and network with people from diverse backgrounds. 

We at FDM have highlighted over the last 30 years that we can recruit 15,000+ people with limited or no tech experience, train them in specific areas of technology and nurture them into specialist IT careers.

We believe that anybody can start a career in tech regardless of their background. One of our apprentices, Sehrish Mustafa speaks of her journey: ‘Coming from Pakistan, with no degree and no professional experience, I had to start all over. I completed a diploma and received good grades. One of my instructors recommended and I applied for an apprenticeship. It was the ideal opportunity for me to gain valuable work experience while finishing my degree.’

Ali Hyder Naqvi is another one of our apprentices and believes apprentices can benefit businesses in many different ways. ‘Because we are blank slates, we can be moulded in any direction the company think fit. So, we can go into a variety of different roles.’

Being future ready

The earlier example of ChatGPT demonstrates what happens when new tech bursts into the market from a consumer’s perspective. However, one of the most recurring challenges encountered by the companies creating new tech products is a scarcity of resources to develop, implement and support these products.

The global AI market was valued at USD 136.55 in 2022 and is projected to grow at CAGR 37.3% from 2023 to 2030. This stat shows that the future of tech will be possibly dominated by AI. Each new innovation will create new job roles to match. The biggest surge in roles will arguably be those to develop, implement and manage AI and its related capabilities.  

Apprenticeships allows organisations to be future-ready. Training and nurturing a steady pool of specialised technical professionals with an eye for business, who truly understand your organisation’s needs, will be key to success.

For more information on how your business could benefit from an apprenticeship programme, get in touch today.