Brexit or no Brexit, apprenticeships are the future.

Apprenticeships are the path to guide us through this uncertainty, says Ben Rowland.

Reading time: 4 minutes.

In 1991 Tim Berners-Lee’s creation, the World Wide Web, was launched to the public. One year later in 1992, the Maastrich Treaty cemented Freedom of Movement across the EU. 

Since then, the world wide web has become the main driver of disruption and change in the economy. Businesses have had to respond. Job titles exist today that didn’t exist 10 years ago, let alone back when John Major was becoming Prime Minister (remember him?).

Roles such as UX Manager, Data Scientist, AI Analyst and Head of Programmatic are just some examples.

For UK hiring managers, this has meant a period of huge excitement and opportunity. But it has also been one of stress and tension as the competition to get the best people has become increasingly feverish and business critical. 

The soothing balm throughout recent years has been that hiring managers have at least had a pool of talent of nearly 300m to recruit from across the European Union. 

Crossing fingers and hoping is probably not an adequate risk management strategy for what is likely to be a huge change for UK employers.

Some of the best and brightest from Alicante to Athens, from Stockholm to Seville, have come to London and elsewhere in the UK to be the software developers, data crunchers and social media managers that the economy has demanded. Many have stayed and become leaders in their UK employers.

But now that hitherto dependable pipeline of hires is at risk from the UK’s almost certain departure from the EU. While there is still a chance, albeit a very small one, that freedom of movement may continue, crossing fingers and hoping is probably not an adequate risk management strategy for what is likely to be a huge change for UK employers. 

More than that, it is one that current UK hiring managers will be totally unfamiliar with: the hiring pool will be a sixth of the size that it has been for the last 20 years. Who has the experience of hiring just from the UK workforce? No one, apart from those who were doing what they are doing now back in 1991.

At the same time, there are new areas of skills shortages to add to the ones that we are more familiar with: while 40% of hiring managers are still concerned about getting the necessary IT skills, more than four in five are now also concerned about getting the necessary data skills. 


Just as hiring demands reach a new peak, we are about to lose one of our most dependable sources of talent, the EU. It seems like the perfect storm.

But there is something that can help UK employers not just weather that storm but to come out of it with a dependable – but different – pipeline of new talent, whether for roles that have traditionally been hard to fill, like software, and those new ones that have joined them, such as data analyst. 

And that’s Apprenticeships.

The Government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy two years ago, forcing employers to put aside 0.5% of their monthly payroll into a dedicated online account from which they could only purchase apprenticeship training. 

Less publicised were two other equally radical measures: to give employers ownership of what was in these new apprenticeship programmes; and to change eligibility so that almost anyone can do an apprenticeship programme.

In the first 12 months after the reforms there was a sudden drop in the number of enrolments on apprenticeship programmes.

As employers have become more familiar with how it works, as they start sharing the success of what they are seeing and as the number of programmes available (the ‘standards’) grows, so confidence is returning in and numbers are returning to the levels seen before the reforms – but with a difference: employers are now using far more advanced and higher level apprenticeships than they were before.

Data recently released by the Department of Education shows there’s been a significant increase in apprenticeship starts in the last year, including last month where there was a 10% increase in apprenticeship starts.

What’s more, employers are increasingly using apprenticeships to achieve a mix of talent objectives: to reskill mid-career professionals, to provide the formal training for ‘accidental professionals’, to convert graduate programmes into something concrete and robust and to find young, diverse talent from an increasingly able and ambitious non-graduate pool of school leavers.

This can be shown in the increase in appetite for degree apprenticeships, with level 6 and level 7 starts growing by 45% in 2017/18 compared to 2016/17.

Employers value apprenticeships because they are robust, structured and externally validated, and because they know they are attractive to a growing number of current and potential employees who in turn see them as a great way to learn the practice as well as the theory of their chosen profession.


About the author

Be Rowland is co-founder of Arch Apprenticeships



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