Mid-market use of apprenticeships increases as fight for talent intensifies

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As National Apprenticeship Week (7-13 February) gets underway, new research from Grant Thornton UK LLP shows that the mid-market is increasingly making use of apprenticeships as a means of upskilling their people at all levels.

From the 601 respondents to Grant Thornton’s latest Business Outlook Tracker* survey, all but one business said that they currently use apprenticeships to develop their people. This has increased from a similar study conducted by the firm in 2018**, when 86% of mid-market respondents said they used apprenticeships in their organisation.

With job vacancies and resignations at record highs, this upward trend of apprenticeship use in the mid-market is set to expand in 2022, with 53% of respondents agreeing that more of their people will be trained using apprenticeships this year than in 2021.

Employers saw additional strategic benefits to apprenticeships with over half (52%) of the business leaders surveyed saying that apprenticeships had helped to improve social mobility in their business and half (50%) agreeing that formal development supports employee wellbeing.

The study found that mid-market organisations are now using apprenticeships at all levels of the business from entry level to senior management. Half of those surveyed (50%) said that the Apprenticeship Levy had been a motivating factor in the increased use.

John O’Mahony, a tax partner who heads up Grant Thornton’s Gatwick office, said:

“In a climate where job vacancies and attrition are reaching record highs, retention and recruitment of the right skills has never been more critical to business growth. In the South East, we’re seeing clients taking an increasingly strategic use of apprenticeships to address issues such as improving diversity in the workforce, achieving sustainable recruitment and replacing traditional graduate programmes with highly desirable qualifications.

“Employers particularly value the flexibility of apprenticeships and the ability to tailor courses for specific requirements. With an increasing demand for employees skilled in high priority areas such as digital technology, finance and data analysis, apprenticeships provide an effective route to attracting, developing and retaining individuals in these fields with degree level or management qualifications.

According to rolling data from Grant Thornton’s Business Outlook Tracker*, investment expectations for skills development in the mid-market have fluctuated greatly throughout the challenges of 2021. At the start of 2021, 47% of businesses said they intended to invest more in skills development over the next six months, a figure which has gone up and down throughout the year, last recorded in December at 31%.

John O’Mahony suggests that this dip in investment expectations has less to do with appetite for skills development than it does with rapidly changing priorities, “The expectations for investment in skills corresponds with business confidence in the economy, so when optimism is high, expectation for investment in skills is also high.

“Since the pandemic began, the faith that South East businesses have had in the economy has fluctuated quite a bit. However, even when it’s been low, firms know that they need to develop their skill base to grow. This is why the Apprenticeship Levy has proved so popular, as it allows businesses to access full funding for qualifications up to master’s degree level.”

As a leading employer of apprenticeships, Grant Thornton has long championed the benefits they can offer. Around 20% of Grant Thornton’s UK workforce are currently using apprenticeships for development and it also partners with leading training and education providers to deliver high quality, Levy funded, development programmes with practical application from the outset.

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