At Engage Comms, we’ve been looking forward to National Apprenticeships Week (#NAW2021) this year more than ever, not least because it is our Account Manager Chloe’s birthday today, which is very fitting given that she came into a career in marketing comms via the apprenticeship route at a time when a degree was a minimum requirement for most entry-level roles.

As a start-up business that was trying to ‘rip up the agency rule book’ at the time, we saw something in Chloe that seriously impressed us when we met her back in 2014. What we were looking for was someone with practical skills and professional experience who could bring an entrepreneurial spirit to our small but perfectly formed team. Someone we were confident to put in front of clients from the outset and someone with both big ideas and practical realism. Aged just 19, Chloe was the full package. The writing skills could be taught and honed but we knew that the unique qualities she had at such a young age would be invaluable to us on our growth journey. Seven years on, she’s part of the furniture – in the most ‘rock solid’, and flattering, sense!

Our experience with recruiting Chloe opened our minds to the potential of apprenticeships and dispelled many of the misconceptions we held – as many employers still do – about entry-level vocational qualifications in professional services. We brought this newfound knowledge and passion to carving a niche for ourselves with clients in the education & skills space, and we currently work with one of the UK’s leading awarding bodies and Apprenticeship End Point Assessment Organisations (NOCN Group), a UK trade body which is also an approved apprenticeship training provider in niche areas of financial services (Credit Services Association), and other clients who run apprenticeship schemes within their own businesses. We are also currently undergoing a project with a local Enterprise Partnership for which apprenticeships are now top of the agenda as part of its mission to untap the region’s huge economic potential post Covid-19.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to champion apprenticeships and other forms of vocational education as a credible alternative to the academic route for both learners and employers in professional sectors like financial services. However, even despite the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, many larger employers are still not seeing the full benefits of using the ringfenced funds to nurture their own next generation of talent. Many are also still unaware that apprenticeships aren’t just for entry level, junior staff. They can be used to re-skill and up-skill people at all ages and levels up to degree level equivalent. Since becoming more formalised than they traditionally were, apprenticeships now act as a stepping stone on a successful career pathway. This means that employers benefit for the long term from highly skilled and engaged employees who are open to lifelong learning.

National Apprenticeships Week 2021 couldn’t come at a more poignant time for the skills and jobs agenda in the UK. We are yet to see the full economic impact of Covid-19 but mass unemployment in sectors that are hardest hit is already creeping in. Recovery will be slow and, while there are many areas of the economy that will feel the effects for years to come, there are other sectors where there are ever-increasing skills gaps that must be filled, particularly post-Brexit.

We do a lot of work in the debt and money advice sector with clients like the CSA, Money Advice Liaison Group, and Registry Trust, and we have already seen the hugely increased demand for these services. As such, there is now a big push to roll out a new Debt Adviser Apprenticeship Standard to build capacity and ensure quality of debt advice at a time when it will be needed more than ever.

As a cost effective way for employers to attract and develop new talent, and an attractive way for those out of work to re-skill or up-skill while working and earning, apprenticeships seem like the obvious solution. There are still hurdles to overcome, but if we can take this unique opportunity to champion apprenticeships more than we ever have before, they may just become the norm in sectors like financial services.

This isn’t to take away from academic study or other vocational qualifications and training. All types of learning and development have an important place in the future of the UK and in the economic recovery from Covid-19. Lifelong learners of the future may do all of these types of learning throughout their career journey. But we must harness what modern apprenticeships can do for social mobility, productivity, and economic recovery and we will continue to champion them for ourselves and on behalf of our clients who deliver/support them. We may even run our own apprenticeship scheme one day. Watch this space…