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Changes in vocational apprenticeship opportunities in the UK, and their impact on the future of the service sectors: Part I

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10th April 2019 – The service sectors live and die on the success of vocational apprenticeships and the skills they impart on the growing domestic workforce.

Apprenticeships across the UK aim to train the next generation of skilled technicians, service contractors, and back office staff to meet the evolving needs of a massive range of jobs, many of which you might not think traditionally involve an apprenticeship component. In the 2016-17 academic year alone, 900,000 people received compensation to participate in an apprenticeship in the UK.

Historically, vocational apprenticeships have provided the prime avenue for young and novice individuals to gain the skills and industry-specific experience necessary to work in the service sectors, especially within; Electrical, HVAC, Plumbing and Service Maintenance.

In part I, we will examine the state of vocational apprenticeship in the UK. We’ll look at what is involved in a vocational apprenticeship in the UK, as well as some of the current trends influencing the potential growth of vocational apprenticeships in the coming years.

In part II, we will highlight some of the new higher education opportunities being provided through new and innovated vocational apprenticeship programmes.

What is a vocational apprenticeship?

In the UK, vocational apprenticeships are defined as training programs which include both academic study and hands-on or in-the-field element. Apprentices must complete a minimum of 30 hours’ paid work a week and 5 ½ hours of study towards a vocational qualification, which may vary depending on the specific field.

The general image most people have of vocational apprenticeships are young people (16-18) trying to gain their first skilled labour position, however, over 50% of those starting an apprenticeship in the UK are over 25.

While many technical and intricate mechanical fields, such as electrical repair and installation or plumbing have been heavily represented in UK based vocational apprenticeship programs the opportunities go far and beyond these sectors.

«Vocational training is available across a wide range of subjects and industries, from engineering, construction and manufacturing to IT and communications, creative and digital media, health and social care, and more.»

Apprenticeships in the UK

English apprenticeships differ from those of other European countries as they are, on average less than 18 months, compared with 3-4 years typical in other countries.

As a result of the condensed training period, English vocational apprenticeship programs, compared to Austria, Germany and Switzerland, are more likely to be trained at a lower skill level, with 100-200 hours of training, compared to 300-400 of their European counterparts.

To evaluate the range of vocational training, and the skills imparted within the process the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) was established in the UK. The QCF contains vocational or work-related qualifications which are recognised in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The QCF also defines several levels of vocational training, from «entry level to level eight – but the focus is generally on levels two and three, which are pitched at GCSE A*-C level and A-Level respectively.»

Trends impacting apprenticeships in the UK: More opportunities and greater gender equality

Apprenticeship participation in England has significantly increased in the last two decades. Recent statistics state around 500 000 apprenticeships are started every year in England, with men and women roughly equally represented.

«These figures represent dramatic increases from the late 1990’s, when the equivalent figure was less than 100 000 [a five-fold increase]. Most of the growth has been in older apprentices, with stats for those over 25 more than quadrupling from just under 50 000 in 2009/10 to more than 200 000 in 2015/16.»

While traditionally, British based apprenticeships have offered less training compared to their European neighbours, recent years have seen that «starts for higher-level apprenticeships have increased faster than for Level 2 apprenticeships, but Level 2 apprenticeships still represented nearly 60% of the total in 2015/16.»

Gender Equality?

In 2016-17, 54% of total apprenticeship started in England were by women (262,820), compared with 46% by men (228,520). This data is also reflective of broader trends in the past decade, showing the number of women starting apprenticeships in England has been higher than men every year since 2010-11.

While broader trends of vocational apprenticeships in the UK are shifting towards greater gender parity, the balance is still noticeably limited in some areas.

«In 2015-16, more than 72,000 male apprentices started programmes in engineering in England, compared with 6,260 women, according to the DfE. By contrast, more than 100,000, or 40% of all female apprentices, started programmes in the health and social care sector.»

To read more about the impact of vocational apprenticeships click Here.