The UK continues to have a historically high number of job vacancies – currently 1.2 million, according to the ONS. Consequentially, the competitive hunt for talent continues, with recent statistics suggesting that 76 percent of UK businesses are currently struggling to recruit talent, adversely impacting their growth, highlights Nichola Hay.

To overcome this ongoing challenge, many business leaders and HR teams need to invest more strategically in order to equip their existing employees with the necessary skills to fill critical gaps. This has sparked a renewed interest in apprenticeships as a development tool for existing staff, as well as a tool for recruiting new talent.

Why invest in apprenticeships?

It can be difficult to recognise and utilise all the benefits of the Apprenticeship Levy – often it’s associated with creating a pipeline of school/college leaver talent. In reality, it can offer development for professionals at all levels, upskilling people alongside their current role. When used properly apprenticeships can be an essential tool for professional development and upskilling the workforce to support business growth.

How can apprenticeships support a diverse workforce?

Employers are increasingly recognising the strong business case for improving the level of diversity and inclusion within their organisation. However, using the same recruitment strategies and practices may be acting as a barrier to reaching applicants from diverse backgrounds. Many employers are still using recruitment channels which result in hiring a relatively homogenous pool of candidates, a recent whitepaper from Robert Walters found.

This challenge can be overcome by offering an apprenticeship programme, opening new channels to more diverse talent. Whether it is stay-at-home parents looking to re-enter the workforce, economically inactive people or recent graduates, an apprenticeship can create an opportunity for those candidates who may have never applied for a role due to their perceived lack of relevant qualifications.

There’s no doubt we’re in a dynamic and increasingly challenging time for businesses. To stay one step ahead, HR professionals must champion investment in developing a workforce equipped with the skills to address future challenges. An apprenticeship programme can be tailored to businesses’ specific need. It could be designed to focus on attracting early talent, or support more experienced members of the workforce whilst addressing any critical skill gaps, in line with what business leaders and the HR team feel the business needs to support growth.

However, apprenticeships are used there’s no doubt investing in developing the skills of current staff will not only help build business resilience, but also support with staff retention, by creating a diverse, multi-skilled workforce. By providing staff with the opportunity to upskill, retrain for promotion or to transfer to other areas of the business they feel passionate about, businesses can demonstrate a clear commitment to their personal and career development, bolstering their self-esteem and motivation.

Can I tailor an apprenticeship?

To incorporate apprenticeship programmes into your business effectively a tailored approach is key. Business and HR leaders should take the time to research and secure relevant data on the current state of the workforce. This will be helpful for assessing the areas that need most attention and setting a benchmark for the future.

Data on age, gender and will help business leaders to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses within the organisation, along with the skills that need to be enhanced. Once businesses have this data apprenticeship programmes can be tailored to fill the gaps, not only creating a more diverse workforce, but also a highly skilled one.

Additionally, it is vital to take note of any areas of the business where external recruitment has stalled, and critical skill gaps are beginning to show. This is especially true if the recruitment drive was needed to help the business transition to new ways of working brought about by new technology.

As an SME how do I prioritise apprenticeships?

HR teams in SMEs need not feel discouraged. Although they may not have the financial capacity for an entire Learning and Development department, they can still make the most of apprenticeships. For them finding the right external training provider and designing the most effective apprenticeship programmes is even more important to help find the right talent. Their resources may be limited, but by prioritising strategic thinking and benchmarking to identify key gaps, while working with the right apprenticeship partner to create bespoke schemes, they will be able to compete with larger businesses for key talent.

Final thoughts

An apprenticeship may not be the solution for all business needs, however, by partnering with the right training provider and designing programmes tailored towards addressing your business needs, apprenticeships can make the weight of many critical problems lighter. This will require business leaders to work in partnership with HR and Learning and Development teams, taking a complete account of their business’s priorities to gain an understanding of where and how a well-constructed apprenticeship programme can alleviate pressure and foster growth.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.