It's National Apprenticeship Week and a new survey of UK businesses and tradespeople shows that demand for apprentices is as strong as ever.
The theme of this year's National Apprenticeship Week (8 to 14 February) is Build the Future. New research conducted by IronmongeryDirect suggests that 2021 will provide more opportunities for apprentices - with one in five tradespeople saying that apprentices are "more important than ever" and 23% of firms planning to take on apprentices in 2021.
Building surveyors (34%) and electricians (28%) are the most likely trades to be looking for apprentices this year. In addition, tradeswomen and female-led companies are more likely to be looking for an apprentice in the year ahead, with a quarter of women (25%) planning to hire a trainee compared to 20% of tradesmen.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), female apprentices in construction are also on the rise, increasing by 19% in the 2019/20 academic year compared to the previous 12 months. This represents a significant trend as there are now 333% more female construction trainees than in 2014/15.
While BAME apprentices made up only 6% of new construction apprentices in 2019/20, this represents an 82% rise since 2014/15. The proportion of BAME trainees continues to grow as they make up 8% of new starters so far this academic year.
The proportion of new apprentices with learning difficulties is also on the rise, making up 14% of the 2019/20 intake. This is a 53% increase from 2014/15. This trend seems set to continue as 16% of the 2020/21 year's new starters have learning difficulties.
However, the findings also show that the pandemic has been tough for apprentices, with 22% of companies that regularly hire apprentices taking on fewer in 2020.
Marco Verdonkschot, managing director at IronmongeryDirect, said: "There are so many people who do amazing work in the industry today who started out as apprentices, so it's important that the program continues to be well-funded. More needs to be done to support apprentices throughout this pandemic to ensure that we continue to have great talent in the future."
IronmongeryDirect has launched a competition for a UK-based tradesperson or company to win £5,000 towards funding an apprentice.
There have also been calls for reform of the apprenticeship system as National Apprenticeship Week gets underway. Carlene Jackson, chief executive and founder of Cloud9 Insight, is asking the government to create a single portal for apprenticeships which could be accessed by employers, potential trainees and parents.
She said: "There's no single portal for employers like myself who would like to employ an apprentice. I'd love to see a government portal where, whether it's as a parent or school, you can send students to. Why can't they go there and see who those employers are that are offering all of those degree or other level apprenticeships, or even work experience?
"I've taken on apprentices with no experience or skills and, within a couple of years, they've gone on to take jobs where they earned £40,000 a year - that's the sort of message we should be giving to young people."
Written by Rachel Miller.