Helping Britain Prosper by closing the skills gap

There are many opportunities and advantages that apprenticeships can offer the UK economy. 

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According to figures from the House of Commons, last year across the UK, between September and November, 538,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed. Although this is 33,000 less than in 2016, there is a huge opportunity for UK corporates, small to medium-sized enterprises, charities and organisations of all sectors to play a bigger role in reducing this further. A key opportunity here is the value of apprenticeships and the tremendous benefits they bring not only to the education, career development and personal growth of young people but also to the importance they have in diversifying our workforce.

In fact, research conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, evidences that on average apprentices bring more than £10,000 in productivity per year for their employers as well as encouraging companies to try out new ways of working, enabling them to compete in the modern workplace.

Around 114,000 apprenticeships commenced between August and October last year but I know there is more we can be doing. This is something that is dear to my heart, having worked with government and various enterprises over the past few years to support development of the UK’s skills capability.

It’s vital that industry-wide sectors continue to recognise and embrace the importance of diversified talent regardless of social and academic background, qualifications and previous employment. Placing too much emphasis on one type of learning and route to employment, whether this is university degrees or management schemes carries risk. Specifically, costs for degree qualifications can be prohibitive to an inclusive and diverse workforce with employees from all kinds of backgrounds.

At Lloyds Banking Group, we see apprenticeships as a vital component of our long-term strategy. As part of our Helping Britain Prosper initiative, we aim to employ 8,000 apprentices by 2020. We are running apprenticeship programmes across every aspect of the Group; from customer services and business administration roles to legal, accountancy, banking, insurance, and digital technology including new schemes emerging in the world of data and cyber security. All of our apprenticeships, not just those in our digital and technology division, encompass a level of digital training, as we acknowledge technology’s increasing pervasiveness in day-to-day life.

While much of the apprenticeship trend is tilted towards younger generations, at Lloyds Banking Group we are also keen to extend our outreach to those in the broader UK workforce, who are looking to change their careers and retrain.

I’m really excited that at Lloyds Banking Group, we have a number of initiatives underway to both understand the skills gaps in the economy and to address the issues. We are currently working with the Department for Education and The Tech Partnership to redesign the Basic Digital Skills framework and better understand the workplace skills required to thrive in the UK job market.

To do so, we are working with over 20 partners from across different industry sectors, and have opened up the framework to public consultation. Within Lloyds Banking Group, we are placing our focus on life-long learning for our colleagues as well as continuing to work towards our Helping Britain Prosper pledge to deliver face to face training to 2.5m people from 2017 to 2020.

We have also worked in partnership with employers from over 200 organisations to develop a suite of new apprenticeship standards, under the Trailblazer initiative, to cover all major entry level roles into work and careers of the future. These new standards approved by the Institute for Apprentices, give employers confidence that their apprentice will develop the skills they need to make a real contribution to their company.

Lloyds Banking Group’s Digital Technology Solutions BSc degree apprenticeship, for example, is run in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University and is available to candidates, of any age and from any background, in Manchester, London and West Yorkshire. The course enables students to obtain a full honours degree in digital and technology solutions.

Directly addressing challenges disadvantaged students from low-income households are faced with, we run a Lloyds Scholars programme. Partnering with some of Britain’s top universities, this social mobility initiative supports undergraduates to succeed through university and improve their employability skills.

Ultimately, the goal for us, as it should be for the rest of UK plc, is for apprenticeships to achieve parity with other qualifications and routes to employment. We must move away from the misconceptions about apprenticeships being a “lower value” choice or one suited solely to specific industry sectors. As we modify and modernise course content, integrate real-life experience and give people the chance to earn salaries while learning, we can improve social mobility, productivity, and truly help Britain prosper.

Leigh Smyth is group transformation lead for colleague, culture and capability at Lloyds Banking Group.