Further collaboration across training providers and industry as well as improved signposting from business bodies are two of the recommendations from a report looking to boost the take-up of apprenticeships in the county.
Apprenticeships allow people to combine study for a recognised qualification with frontline and paid experience within an organisation.
Earlier in the year, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s People & Skills Group (PSG) formed a task and finish group in response to data from the 2020-21 academic year which seemed to indicate a higher than national average annual decline in apprenticeships in the county.
Thanks to its investigations, the group uncovered a somewhat more complicated picture, with actual numbers of apprenticeships remaining comparable to other areas of the country and higher apprenticeships (Level 4 and above) showing growth in numbers although other levels have still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.
Drawing on the broad range of expertise and experience at its disposal, the task and finish group identified a number of contributory factors:
- A shift away from using apprenticeships and the Apprenticeship Levy as a means of recruiting junior roles to one that focusses on developing existing staff;
- A decline in candidates’ soft skills (eg communications, socialisation etc) making it challenging for businesses to make such placement work effectively for them;
- A perception among businesses that the apprenticeship landscape is fragmented and complicated and for SMEs isn’t flexible enough to cater for the smaller numbers of apprentices required in some specific sectors;
- A reduction in the financial viability of some courses due to a shift in the standards framework;
- A patchy mutual understanding between local schools and employers that results in a lack of awareness of needs and opportunities
Richard Brame, chair of the PSG, (pictured above) said: “Firstly, thank you to the very many individuals, from the business, education and other sectors, who contributed their time and ideas to this excellent report.
“Secondly, it’s clear that whilst Suffolk is not immune to some of the national trends underlying shifts in apprenticeship take-up, it is clear that there is more we can do here together in the county to improve the working and impact of the apprenticeship system.
“Suffolk Chamber believes that apprenticeships are changing, but with better co-ordination and collaboration, they will continue to form an important pipeline of up-and-coming talent that will help power the county’s economy forward for years to come.”
Rachel Hood, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for skills, said: “Apprenticeships remain a very important means of providing a route into employment, growing the talent pools that many of our key sectors require and upskilling and progressing our current workforce. This report is, therefore, very welcome in helping to determine how we may be able to further enhance the impact of apprenticeships on the strengthening of our local economy and the provision of benefits for our local residents and businesses.
“Suffolk County Council already invests in several key projects that aim to support the creation of apprenticeships through our ‘Apprenticeships Suffolk’ offer. We are committed to working closely alongside other key stakeholders to find further means to maximise the contribution that apprenticeships can make as we continue to look to build back better, build back stronger, and build back greener following the pandemic”
The PSG’s apprenticeship task and finish group recommended the following improvements:
- Establishing collaborative working groups involving training providers and industry to better understand and meet employer needs and expectations;
- Better supporting the signposting role of business bodies such as Suffolk Chamber to ensure they can direct prospective employers to the right resources and advice;
- Improving relationships between education and businesses at a local level to increase proportion of “apprenticeship-ready” students;
- Establishing what apprenticeship standards need to be focused on in relation to Suffolk’s growth sectors and expected infrastructure development.