Government figures show that almost half of all apprentices drop out of their course, and 70 per cent of those report problems with the quality of training they receive. For many, a poor experience ‘in company’ is the main factor for them leaving their apprenticeship. ADAM TIPPER, managing director of NEXT GEN MAKERS, looks how manufacturing employers can ensure a 'great experience’ and that apprentices not only go on to complete their training but become evangelists to others in their age group to join them within the industry or in their company.
The start of the year saw firms across West & North Yorkshire enjoy very strong levels of hiring, according to the latest Quarterly Economic Survey (Q1/23) from West & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, with the manufacturing sector in particular posting employment figures at the highest level since the start of 2017.
This is reflected in a reduction in job vacancies over the last three months, a trend seen both in Leeds and across West Yorkshire. However, the labour market remains very tight and recruitment activity remains at a high level with over 34,000 new job postings in March this year, a similar level to the same period in 2022.
Across the region, most occupational categories saw a decline in month-on-month job postings but the reduction in engineering vacancies was marginal, at just less than 2,000. (West Yorkshire Economic Insights Report, April 2023).
This chimes with the national backdrop of engineering skills scarcity: high demand against low supply of skilled, time served engineers. The UK has an annual shortfall of over 186,000 young engineers every year and an increase in the number of engineering firms looking to start or scale apprenticeship schemes as a result.
However, recent Government figures show that almost half of all apprentices (47 per cent) are now dropping out of their course, and 70 per cent of those report problems with the quality of their training – equivalent to 115,000 apprentices every year.
According to a recent EDSK report by FE News, for many apprentices a poor experience ‘in company’ is the main factor for them leaving their Apprenticeship, with employers cited as treating Apprentices as workers rather than learners.
When considering the skills shortage and the impact this will have on the sectors future; it is vital that the engineering and manufacturing industry ‘gets apprenticeships right’ to ensure sufficient skilled talent exists where it is required.
But how can we better understand what factors contribute to a great apprentice experience? One where the apprentices are not only retained but become evangelists to others in their age group to join them within the industry or in their company.
That is the question that Next Gen Makers recently put to a group of angineering apprentices during a round table discussion at the Make UK Technology Hub in Aston, Birmingham.
Apprentices involved represented companies including Veolia Water Technologies, Collins Aerospace, Severn Trent, Seco Tools and Ishida Europe.
As you can imagine, it was a passionate discussion, from a diverse group that are keen to see more young people follow in their footsteps as the next generation of engineers.
All apprentices had the opportunity to rank what matters most to them from a choice of nine options, with regards to their experience as an Apprentice – with Next Gen Makers tallying up the responses for each to determine a ranked score.
‘Developing new skills’ was the most important element of their apprenticeship, as voted for by the apprentices. ‘Progression opportunities’ came second, followed by ‘achievements being recognised’, which completed the top three.
‘Feeling valued’, ‘being able to visit other departments and learn other areas of the business’ and ‘getting on with co-workers’ were the fourth, fifth and sixth most important factors contributing to a great apprentice experience.
Finally, the three least important factors contributing to making a great apprentice experience were ‘having a mentor’ in seventh, ‘feeling included’ in eighth and ‘pay’, which came last as far as these apprentices were concerned.
That is not to say that these factors are unimportant, they were simply deemed less important a contributor to their satisfaction with their Apprenticeship than the other options.
From Next Gen Makers’ work running the Make UK backed Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme, we know from speaking with hundreds of UK manufacturing firms that the ability to create a great apprentice experience differs widely across UK industry.
It is a complex combination of factors, all of which add up to define the experience of an individual, as lived by them.
The Make UK Engineering Apprenticeships: Employer Kitemark accreditation, achieved via the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme, involves recognising exemplar employers of engineering apprentices – the kind of employers that go the extra mile in creating a great apprentice experience and investing in the ongoing learning and development of their apprentices.
The accreditation includes three components: benchmarking (self-reflection and continuous improvement with regards to the set up and operation of the company’s apprenticeship scheme); an apprentice satisfaction survey; and a training provider survey, to gain the perspective of the training provider with regards to how the company runs its’ apprenticeship scheme. The Kitemark scoring is weighted with 80% of the scoring attributed to the apprentice satisfaction survey.
The apprentice satisfaction survey includes a robust question set of 20 questions which encompass the apprentices’ experience to date, their wellbeing and their training and development.
Ultimately, for the employer this is providing a comprehensive and personalised layer of insight directly from their apprentices regarding their experience within the business, which in turn helps the company to better evaluate and improve their Apprentice experience and their apprenticeship scheme.
We are seeing an increasing number of companies establishing apprentice counsels or providing new ways for their apprentices to feed back ideas and giving them more time with senior figures within the business.
The feedback from all of this, is apprentices feeling more valued and recognised, something which is leading to greater retention of those individuals not only within the Apprenticeship scheme, but within the business over a longer period of time.
If your company is looking to start or scale an apprenticeship scheme, would like to benchmark your approach to running your scheme against industry best practice to see where you could improve and then learn from the successes of others, or are interested in getting recognised as an ‘Excellent Employer’ for engineering apprenticeships, visit www.nextgenmakers.co.uk/best-practice or request more information here.