UK Needs More Focus On Apprenticeships, Says Peer

The UK needs to increase its apprenticeship provision to meet major economic challenges and get out of its prolonged economic slump, according to a former employment minister.

Writing for Politics Home, Lord Knight of Weymouth, who was an employment and welfare minister from 2009 to 2010, said this will be a priority to focus on as he joins Lord David Willetts as co-chair of an enquiry held jointly with EngineeringUK into the take-up of apprenticeships in the engineering and technology sectors.

Reflecting on the impact corporate apprenticeship programmes could make, he noted that the UK economy, while sharing in global problems of inflation, is also the only major economy yet to return to its pre-pandemic size and is beset by high levels of economic inactivity and low productivity. He said this requires reversing the recent decline in engineering apprenticeships. 

He observed “While engineering-related apprenticeships have fared better than other sectors, it has still seen a decline of nine per cent across engineering-related subjects in the number of starts since 2014/2015.” Worst hit of all has been engineering and manufacturing technologies, a sub-sector that has endured a 34 per cent plunge in apprenticeships over the same period.

Lord Knight said the aim of the inquiry will be to establish why the decline has taken place, what barriers to taking up apprenticeships exist and what can be done to increase apprenticeship starts. 

A major engineering and technology firm that is seeking to boost apprenticeships is Jaguar Land Rover (JLR). 

It has just announced a record number of degree apprenticeships to help grow the base of electrification and digital skills available to the sector. The 300 apprenticeships on offer this year include 150 in these specific areas, representing a 70 per cent increase on last year.

Other areas covered by the apprenticeships include self-driving, artificial intelligence, data analytics, software engineering and machine learning, JLR noted.