From Novice to Expert:

Upskilling the Workforce Through Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular throughout the UK. Indeed, statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirm this surge in popularity, with 5.3% of the UK population (2.4 million people) holding an apprenticeship as their highest qualification. This number has almost doubled since 2011, when apprentices were first added as an option on the ONS census.

According to government figures, 740,400 people were completing apprenticeships in the 2021/22 academic year. 349,200 of those were new apprenticeship starters, highlighting an increase of 9% in new people opting for apprenticeships compared to the previous year.

As of the end of last year, almost 60% of students in years nine to 12 were considering taking on an apprenticeship. 34% of these prospective applicants are eager to learn new skills, tying in with the National Apprenticeship Week theme for 2024: ‘Skills for Life’. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness of the importance of apprentices and help raise the skill level and industry-specific knowledge amongst the UK workforce. 

To mark National Apprenticeship Week (5-11 February), we spoke with apprentices and ex-apprentices at national decorating contractors Bagnalls to discover how their experience has prepared them for a successful career. Bagnalls is committed to providing high-quality apprenticeships to help young people unlock their potential. The company is also an exclusive platinum member of The 5% Club – confirming that at least 10% of its workforce is ‘earning and learning’. Bagnalls is in the top 3% of The 5% Club’s prestigious top-level performers.

Key findings

Increasing popularity

Apprenticeships are increasingly popular across a variety of sectors, including transport, engineering, media, law and accounting, as well as the painting and decorating industry. These courses offer apprentices the chance to gain industry-recognised qualifications, as well as hands-on experience in their chosen field.

Increasingly seen as a legitimate alternative to traditional university courses, apprenticeships can allow for a successful career and open the door to further qualifications. Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, left school at 16 and began an apprenticeship with a car company, which allowed her to go on to study at university and eventually create real change in her current post, working for the UK government. Keegan is proof that completing an apprenticeship can kickstart a brilliant career.

Bagnalls employee Lee Jeyes agrees, saying “My apprenticeship has been instrumental in shaping my career and providing me with the relevant skills to succeed.” Lee completed a sponsored apprenticeship with Bagnalls at the beginning of his career and is now Regional Director at the UK-wide company!

A qualified apprentice will not only have industry-specific skills at their fingertips, but will also stand out to potential employers. The ability to complete an apprenticeship showcases dedication and a high level of interest within that field. Lee explains: “Completing my apprenticeship helped me demonstrate my commitment to continuous learning and professional growth. It also showcased my dedication to acquiring practical skills and knowledge, a determination which has been highly regarded by employers throughout my career.”

‘Skills for Life’

The theme of National Apprenticeship Week 2024 is ‘Skills for Life’. The aim is to help apprentices build the right foundation of knowledge so they can go on to have an incredible career and contribute towards a highly skilled UK workforce.

 An apprenticeship opens doors to further related career paths, including the chance to complete further qualifications, enter higher education and even diversify into a management position. Bagnalls’ Branch Manager Jane Potter also began her career as an apprentice. She comments: “I have progressed from valued apprentice to management level. My apprenticeship allowed me to gain skills for life and kickstarted my career – I was able to work alongside highly trained people who helped to guide me.” 

Thanks to the success seen by those completing apprenticeships, public opinion is changing for the better. 57% of UK adults now believe that apprenticeships provide better value for money than university courses. Almost 40% of those surveyed also think apprenticeships are better at providing long-lasting skills within the chosen field and over half believe an apprenticeship will better prepare students to enter the workplace.

 Joel Mortlock, previous Bagnalls apprentice and current Group Academy Tutor for the company, agrees. He reveals: “The recognised qualification you will receive when you complete your apprenticeship is another great benefit of the course – opening doors for you and highlighting your determination to succeed.” 

Amazing apprenticeships

An apprenticeship allows talented individuals to begin earning money and kickstart their career, while learning the skills they need to succeed. Recent research has shown that apprentices are 9% more likely to find full-time employment after finishing their course than university graduates. 

Joel comments, “With Bagnalls, after you’ve finished your apprenticeship, you will also earn a full-time job alongside those you know and have already worked with. This will help set you up for the future and means you won’t have to take a break from earning!”

 By opting for an apprenticeship, students can also surround themselves with like-minded, determined people and make important connections within their chosen field. Katie Sanders, current Bagnalls apprentice, comments: “The people I work with are really friendly and always willing to have a laugh! If I ever need advice, my coworkers are always happy to show me different ways to tackle a job.” Once Katie finishes her apprenticeship, she will have a network of co-workers and friends to help her progress through her career. 

Max Antenbring, Trainee Contracts Manager at Bagnalls, agrees with Katie. He says: “The best thing about taking on an apprenticeship with Bagnalls is the team I work with! Everyone that I spend my time with is extremely helpful and always willing to give with advice.”

Apprenticeships are no longer limited to one field and provide a legitimate opportunity to unlock potential. Earning while learning, forging important industry connections and fostering skills for life, apprentices can kickstart their own careers and open the door to further education and management level positions. 

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