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James Swaffield

The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week is ‘Build the Future’ and is designed to encourage everyone to consider how apprenticeships help individuals to build the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career. 

However, considering the devastating impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had on young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, I would argue that building the future isn’t enough, if all we’re going to do is rebuild what was there before. We need to focus on the needs of young people and create new and innovative opportunities for them, so they don’t fall further behind.

All young people have had to face two years of disrupted education, but those with support at home and access to devices have had a greater chance of minimising the gap. That’s not true for those who were already behind their peers. A report by the Royal Society found that; ‘because of school closures and disruption to education, from the mid-2030s, workers in their 20s will have lower skills than they would otherwise have. For the next 50 years, this has the potential to affect a quarter of the entire workforce and disadvantaged students are particularly at risk of falling into poverty’. 

Apprenticeship programmes can present a unique career path for young people. However, according to research from The St Martin’s Group ‘starts amongst apprentices in the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods in England between 2015/2016 and 2019/2020 fell by nearly half.’ This decline started before the pandemic, so we must address the root causes for this and do more to create wider opportunities. 

These young people deserve a different approach, so we can ensure that the disadvantages they face now do not continue through their life and impact their future careers and earnings. Apprenticeship providers like Capita, must do everything we can to forge more meaningful relationships with colleges and businesses so we can create more inclusive opportunities, while also meeting the needs of local and national employers.

Tailoring apprenticeship programmes to address the skills gap

We must also challenge ourselves to design new, innovative programmes that address the skills gaps that businesses and learners are facing now, and those they’re likely to face in future. Businesses never stand still, and apprenticeships shouldn’t either. We know that businesses increasingly need employees with digital and technological skills like data literacy or advanced coding. Then there are personal and socio-economic skills to consider such as communication, leadership and managing others. How many students from disadvantaged backgrounds are given the opportunity to polish their debating and presentation skills? Yet, these skills can be highly sought after in the workplace. We are already facing a UK STEM skills shortage (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and there also basic literacy, communication and numeracy skills to focus on too. According to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, five million adults lacked basic literacy and numeracy skills in 2016. Following the pandemic, that figure is likely to be much higher. In his Autumn budget speech last year, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced a new national programme called ‘Multiply’ to address poor numeracy skills among UK adults. The Chancellor said that this focus is designed to deliver a “high wage, high skill, high productivity economy of the future”. Numeracy skills already have to be built into apprenticeship programmes, but we need to carefully consider the needs of young people who are emerging from a period of disrupted education. Providers will be key in closing this gap, but more support is needed, and we are keen to hear more about the Chancellor’s plans in this key area. 

At Capita, we design our apprenticeship programmes in partnership with businesses and use real- time, intuitive data insights to update and improve them so we can respond to changes in the wider business landscape. This means we can be sure that our programmes are in line with how businesses are continually transforming themselves. We help people to access level 2 and 3 apprenticeship programmes to build their basic skills and then offer them the opportunity to grow into higher level apprenticeships so they can go on to forge successful careers.

Government data shows that out of 130,200 apprenticeship starts in the first quarter of the 2021/22 academic year, private training providers were responsible for 57% while general further education colleges accounted for 26%. So, we know that private apprenticeship providers have an important role to play. We are fortunate at Capita to be able to combine our 30 years of industry experience with our skills in education and learning technology. This means we can develop programmes that are more engaging for the learner and fit the current and future skills requirements of employers.

For me it’s important that we continue to work closely with employers and colleges to ensure we do justice to all learners (especially those who feel they don’t have the same level of opportunities as their peers) and provide a robust pipeline of skilled workers. The pandemic created a national emergency, but we now have a great opportunity to reshape how we use apprenticeships to create better outcomes, and Capita intends to be at the forefront of building that brighter future.

Find out more about Capita apprenticeships

Written by

James Swaffield

James Swaffield

Managing Director, Capita Adult Education

Since joining Capita in September 2020 James has led the transformation of our apprenticeship delivery across a range of public and private sector clients. In January 2022 James stepped up to lead our new Adult Education business unit providing education and skills programmes from level 1 to level 6 and supporting over 11,000 learners on programmes today.

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