Apprenticeships are a great way for people to enter a career path as it combines classroom teaching and practical, hands-on learning with the end product being an informed, educated and practically competent candidate who is ready to enter the industry.
This would at first glance seem like the benefits of apprenticeships are all in one direction, for the apprentice, but this isn’t actually the case. There are many benefits to the engineering and manufacturing sector and the individual businesses that trade within it.
We explore these in detail.
1. Apprenticeships Help Retain Skill Sets
Engineering apprentice programmes are by their nature very practical and very much a hands-on endeavour not least because the industry itself is inherently a practical one. In times gone by, skill sets were routinely preserved by family lines as children would be a natural successor in the parents’ business after retirement and so the children would grow up learning the trade and being involved in the day to day running of the business from an early age, a trend that remains evident in people’s surnames we still see today: Baker, Fisher, Clark etc. In modern times, this is rarely the case and there are now more opportunities than ever for young people in education to forge their own path.
This gives rise to the scenario whereby industries are now obliged to attract new people based on merit and mutually beneficial factors otherwise the skills that keep the industry competitive could be lost as more people retire from the profession than people join. Remaining competitive in an ever-changing global economy is essential as new innovations lead to changes in technologies, changes in infrastructure and indeed changes in the law.
Taking Brexit as an example, regardless of where one stands on the decision to leave the European Union, it’s evident that many industries are facing periods of change. This isn’t necessarily in a negative direction but a reality that has to be acknowledged. For some sectors, leaving the EU will influence trading behaviours and supply chains especially for import/export markets both within the EU and further afield.
By retaining a robust skills base in the industry, the flexibility and strength that this provides will ensure the industry can cope with new challenges and adapt which is of benefit to everyone from those on the front line in the company through to wider society. The nature of the free-market economy is such that adaptation is essential for longevity.
2. Practical Skills Can Be Learned on the Job
Engineering is an applied science. The sciences: Physics, chemistry, mathematics and other fields such as geology all come together and provide the means by which engineering problems can be solved on paper. Expertise in these fields is, of course, invaluable and much of this can be learned in the classroom but in engineering, the knowledge only becomes practical when it leaves the desk and leads to the production of something tangible that fits the requirement. This is why it’s so important to gain hands-on experience in the field of engineering as it’s the transition from theory to testing to reality that gives the industry its value.
This concern about taking theoretical or classroom-skills into the workplace is evident in wider society as many people cite how they need experience to get their foot in the door in an industry but cannot gain the experience they need without first gaining employment.
This has been reported in the media on many occasions and specific cases examined where people are leaving university without a career lined up. This is why the popularity of apprenticeships has been increasing for some time and it’s time for manufacturing and engineering to take a leading role in harnessing a mutually beneficial system.
By being part of an industry that puts practical skills first, engineering companies benefit by being able to more clearly identify real talent. This would naturally allow companies to more confidently employ people especially if the apprentice trained with them specifically and this in turn leads to lower staff turnover, something that represents a cost to a business.
3. Apprenticeships Can Be Part of A Career Change
Career changes are generally considered by those who have spent some time in work but now feel like they need to take a side step for whatever reason motivates them. Whilst apprenticeships tend to be associated with college-age candidates, this isn’t necessarily the case. Can adults do apprenticeships? Absolutely, yes, and this is often a great way to retrain in a new career whilst maintaining an income.
This is great for engineering businesses because it creates an open door for those from other industries to bring their ideas. Without fresh thinking, industries are at risk of stagnating and becoming stuck in the “that’s just the way it’s done” trap. Innovation and creativity are rarely negative attributes for any company and apprenticeships serve as a means to encourage both.
Attracting people with different experiences to those who are currently working brings new questions, new lines of enquiry and is a catalyst for rethinking processes that have been otherwise unchanged.
4. It Increases the Profile of the Industry
Linking in with the point about an industry losing its skills, keeping the profile of the industry high and the reputation positive is essential for attracting talented individuals who will bring innovative thinking, entrepreneurship and good values. Not being able to attract enough of the right candidate can cause an industry to stall when it otherwise might have grown, which damages everybody from the companies themselves through to the economy at large.
It’s also an issue that some industry sectors suffer from a lack of visibility and fail to demonstrate that a role actually exists. This article touches on this issue and goes on to explain that more specialised fields fail to fill open vacancies simply because their field wasn’t known about which led to a mismatch in the job market whereby there were vacancies and the people to fill them, but very little matching the two sides of the market up.
This is another way through which employers in manufacturing and engineering benefit from apprenticeships, by subscribing to a scheme that lowers barriers to entry in the workplace, being part of a wider community and helping develop people from a young age (or sometimes not so young, as we see above!)
It goes further than that. Apprenticeships systematically improve the pool of candidates for a job both in size and in quality which leads to greater competition in the job market and improving standards across the board. We just have to turn to the NHS to see how the declining number of clinical staff is leading to problems across the entire country.
5. Good PR in The Local Area
Being a good employer is good for public relations and is often cited in the media as being one of the upsides to building new plant and factory developments in untouched areas. Bringing jobs and stability to an area is newsworthy, and more newsworthy still is bringing these opportunities to local colleges and other educational institutions who are the focal point of young people with an appetite to join the employment market.
By offering engineering apprenticeships in Birmingham, bridges can be built (quite literally and metaphorically) with local Birmingham colleges which is a positive thing for the local community and avoids isolation in a world that is becoming more and more open to mutually beneficial opportunities.
Getting along with neighbours is essential for ensuring the support of the people is maintained. Several industries have been blighted by poor reputations and the government has stepped in to introduce legal frameworks with the aim of tidying up our industries. The Security Industry Authority is one such example.