It’s fair to say that the modern apprenticeship system has not always had a great press.

The introduction of the levy, sometimes patchy nature of provision and old-fashioned notions that they are exclusively for young people entering the world of work, have all attracted negative headlines at one time or another.

But as National Apprenticeship Week gets under way, it’s worth reflecting on the challenges that apprenticeships are helping the UK economy to address.

It’s no secret that there is a skills gap in the UK which urgently needs bridging.

The OECD ranks this country only 11th in world for the proportion of adults with higher-level qualifications and described our nation just four years ago as having a ‘long tail’ of low-skilled workers.

What does that mean? Well, essentially a large section of our workforce is trapped in poorly-paid low-skilled jobs because they don’t have the skills or training to move into more senior roles.

All this at a time when the workplace is changing more quickly than ever.

The sweeping changes on the horizon through Industry 4.0 and digital transformation will require a hugely different workforce to the one we have today, with hi-tech skills, the ability to adapt and an acceptance that learning continues throughout a lifetime.

Our work with the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership means we see the enormous investment going on to ensure this region has a skilled and flexible workforce ready to face the challenges of the digital future.

To date, the LEP has invested £5.7 million in a range of projects to increase the number of apprenticeships. And by 2021 it aims to have delivered more than 3,000 new apprenticeship starts across the Marches with investment through the Growth Deal.

Importantly, these are not schemes just limited to training up school leavers. They work across the board to develop skills for everyone, from 16-year-olds starting out without much in the way of academic qualifications to managers looking to add further to their knowledge base.

By investing in skills at all levels, we can only help future-proof our region for the huge changes that lie ahead. That is why apprenticeships need to work – and need to work for everybody.

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