School leavers scramble for apprenticeships

Thousands of A-level students awarded top grades today will be waking up to the grim reality in the morning of a dwindling jobs market and fierce competition for university places.

Engineering skills council Semta said technically capable candidates were often lured towards other sectors such as banking.

By Louisa Peacock

Of those who choose to enter the labour market for the first time, the majority will likely struggle to find a decent job. Hundreds of bright young minds face being turned down from their ideal employer because of the sheer scramble for work.

The Government’s National Apprenticeship Service website, which lists apprenticeship vacancies, received 691,590 applications from young people for apprenticeships over the past year – a 158pc rise compared with the previous 12 months, figures reveal. The surge in demand is partly linked to fears over rising graduate debt, experts say.

However, just one in eight employers offers the on-the-job training scheme nationwide. In the engineering sector – said to be crying out for more skilled workers – just a quarter of businesses are prepared to hire apprentices.
A flood of recent studies from the CBI, manufacturers’ body the EEF and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows companies struggle to recruit appropriate candidates, claiming skills shortages will hamper their ability to grow. According to the CIPD, however, employers should stop moaning about Britons’ lack of skills and do something about it.
Katerina Rudiger, the group’s skills adviser, said: “Employers tend to complain a lot about skills shortages, saying people don’t have the right skills, but employers nationwide need to take on more responsibility for training their own talents She added: “Clearly it’s not that people aren’t applying to companies – and they can’t all be lacking in skills.”

Earlier this week, BP became the latest business to claim a dearth of engineers in the UK was threatening to hold back business growth. The oil giant’s North Sea boss, Trevor Garlick, told The Sunday Telegraph BP struggled to recruit the right people to fill hundreds of vacancies.
But the company said it was recruiting just 25 apprentices for its North Sea operation this year. BP, which employs about 10,000 staff in the UK, is recruiting up to a further 10 apprentices nationwide and about 150 graduates to plug skills gaps.

Ms Rudiger pointed to the likes of Rolls-Royce and Siemens, which hire “a lot more” apprentices than BP at 200 and 100 per year respectively. Businesses that suffer from skills shortages should consider increasing the volume of young people they recruit to “home-grow talent”, she said.
“Apprenticeships are not the panacea to all our skills problems, but are a good alternative to university. Companies should be seeing apprenticeships as part of their workforce planning,” she said.

As companies continue to be swamped by applications for their apprenticeship schemes – BT says it has received 19,600 applications so far for about 500 places and Network Rail 8,000 applications for 200 places – Ms Rudiger asks whether more should be done to make the most of those capable young people who lose out.

The call comes as official figures show unemployment surged in the three months to June by almost 40,000, to 2.49m, compared to the previous quarter. One in five young people is out of work.

The CBI suggests larger companies should work with small to medium-sized enterprises to offer their training facilities to help them recruit and develop the staff they need.

Rolls-Royce is already building an apprentice academy in Derby, which will allow the group to hire as many as 200 young people to train for work in its supply chain and the manufacturing industry in the East Midlands.
Other employers, however, say they simply do not have the resources to do something similar. Network Rail, for example, said suppliers were welcome to use its training centre in theory but questioned whether it would have the space.

James Fothergill, head of skills at the CBI, said: “Large employers need some degree of support to make this happen. But research shows across organisations the return employers get from employing an apprentice.
“Big employers should at the very least consider redirecting rejected – but good – candidates towards small firms that desperately needed specific skills but did not attract as many applications in their own right. Good candidates are likely to slip through the net unless they are made aware of different opportunities in industry.”

The engineering and manufacturing skills council Semta said technically capable candidates, who had studied engineering, maths or science at A-level, were often lured towards other sectors such as banking rather than working in a role aligned to their qualifications.

Lynn Tomkins, Semta’s UK operations director, said that because so many young people were rejected from school-leaver schemes at household-name employers, such as BAE Systems or Dyson, they tended to lose faith in the sector without considering jobs at smaller firms in the supply chain.
Semta is currently running a trial scheme to match skilled workers to employers looking for specific expertise. There is no point urging young people to study engineering-related subjects if, when they apply for positions, they are turned down without knowing where to go next, Ms Tomkins said.

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