Apprentices’ time has come.

Real business benefits await companies that are prepared to take on apprentices now, says Paul Champion.

The case for apprenticeships has never been more compelling. In these challenging times, business leaders, trade unions and the Government all agree that apprenticeships are vital to the economy, meeting the training needs of employers and helping them to up-skill to confront the challenges ahead for us as a leading trading nation.

Apprenticeships are a proven, measurable and highly successful way to train workforces, making organisations more effective, productive and competitive by addressing skills gaps directly, even during difficult economic times.

Real business benefits await companies engaging with apprentices and today, with the sheer variety of apprenticeships on offer, all sectors of the economy can take advantage to harness fresh new talent.

Indeed, a Learning and Skills Council survey* among employers revealed that many saw apprenticeships as having real bottom-line benefits, helping to improve productivity and competiveness. It confirmed that training apprentices is more cost effective than hiring skilled staff, leading to lower recruitment costs.

Apprentices make a valuable contribution to their employers during their training period –many have shown their value to an organisation within the first few weeks of employment. What’s more, research by the National Apprenticeship Service has shown that more than 80% of people are likelier to use a business if it offers apprenticeships to young people.

A key advantage of apprenticeships is that they deliver skills shaped around the individual needs of a business while also helping employers to develop the expertise needed to keep pace with the latest developments in technology and working practices in their sector.

Many perceive apprenticeships as providing the impetus for the skilled workers needed for the future.

Apprentices are renowned for being eager, motivated, flexible, willing to learn and loyal to employers that have taken the time and money to invest in them. An apprentice is with you out of choice and wants to be there working for you. They have made an active decision to learn a skill, engage positively with the workplace and commit to learning a specific trade or career.

The Government has also signalled its commitment to supporting apprenticeships and sees them as a key weapon in securing Britain’s future skills’ needs, ensuring our industries are fully equipped to meet the challenges of competing for business against the emerging power houses like India and China and others by providing a highly trained and resourceful workforce.

The decision to allocate £200m of additional funding to support apprenticeships despite swingeing cuts in whole areas of the public sector, and the creation of 75,000 new apprentices, has been welcomed by those involved in training North East trade and industry – the North East Apprenticeship Company included – and is a clear signal of support by central government that apprenticeships are here to stay, and have a dynamic role to play in modern commerce.

Here, in the North East, we are not only demonstrating how our own region can benefit from apprenticeships but exporting our expertise and knowledge outwards to international markets, where we can show how employers in far flung destinations can take advantage of UK style apprenticeships in an effort to curb their own chronic youth unemployment problem.

I recently had the opportunity as managing director of the North East Apprenticeship Company to advise business leaders, government officials, vocational and training councils in Hong Kong about how they can tackle one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the Asia Pacific region.

Organisations like the British Chamber of Commerce recognise the scale of the problem and are looking to the UK’s lead, where the re-emergence of apprenticeships is being seen as vital in supporting the training needs of employers while equipping young people with the right skills for a career.

The message to Hong Kong and everywhere else is no different- apprenticeships are back to stay. Investing in structured schemes benefits business while providing a sense of belonging for young people, equipping them with the confidence and important skills to ensure they are able to go on to play a full role in both the company they work for and wider society.

* Apprenticeships, survey conducted by Populus on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council, Feb 2009.

Paul Champion is managing director of The North East Apprenticeship Company.

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