How Apprenticeships can help bridge the skills gap

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

Sue Husband, executive director of Apprenticeships and Delivery at the Skills Funding Agency, explains how Apprenticeships can help railway businesses grow.

The rail sector has a strong history of Apprenticeships and now, against the back-drop of an ageing workforce and an expanding network, there is an increasing demand for the technical skills involved. As a result the importance of Apprenticeships has never been greater.

The balance of on- and off-the-job training is perfect for the sector and allows apprentices to build their theoretical knowledge and practical skills, whilst gaining real life experience working in the industry.

Research among employers demonstrates Apprenticeships can help businesses grow by developing a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce. Each Apprenticeship lasts for a minimum of 12 months, and 96% of apprentice employers report benefits to their business, ranging from improved competitiveness to better staff retention and recruitment cost savings.

Greater productivity is reported by around 72% of apprentice employers, with the average Apprenticeship completer increasing business productivity by £214 per week, a figure incorporating higher profits, lower prices and better products.

There are a wide range of Apprenticeships to choose from, which are suitable for employers of all sizes. Currently, more than 100,000 employers in England offer Apprenticeships in 200,000 locations, covering over 170 industries and 1,500 different job roles.

Whether they are looking to recruit a Skilled Track Operative apprentice, Junior Track Technical Engineer or someone to work behind the scenes in finance or marketing, there is an Apprenticeship available to suit every employer’s needs.

Furthermore, it would seem that Apprenticeships are now filtering into supply chain selection criteria. Nearly one in five (16%) of SMEs and over a third (37%) of larger organisations say they have been questioned by clients or prospects about their apprentice recruitment policies.

Through the National Apprenticeship Service, employers receive help with recruitment and training costs, and tailored support at every stage of the Apprenticeship recruitment process. There is also a £1,500 grant available to assist smaller firms in taking on a young apprentice.

Last year 1,300 individuals started an Apprenticeship in Rail Transport Engineering, which is just one of the Apprenticeship strands available to the sector. However, with an average of 15 applicants for every available Apprenticeship in the Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies sector, demand continues to outstrip supply. I would encourage all employers to consider how they can utilise Apprenticeships to bridge the skills gap and grow their own talent.

Case study

Regina Tumblepot’s Apprenticeship means she can earn a wage while laying the foundations for a promising engineering career.

Regina Tumblepot 1 - goes with case study

Tumblepot (pictured), from Folkestone, Kent, had achieved GCSEs and a BTEC national diploma in manufacturing and mechanical engineering before she began looking for an Apprenticeship to further her desired career.

“I’ve wanted to do an engineering job ever since I started studying it at college,” she explained. “But I knew I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for another three years; I learn much faster through doing work rather than by watching presentations.”

Tumblepot searched and applied via the Apprenticeship vacancies website run by the National Apprenticeship Service and after attending an assessment day and an interview, she was offered a position with Morgan Sindall, a UK construction, infrastructure and design business.

Invaluable experience

She began an Advanced Apprenticeship in Construction Civil Engineering, studying with training provider South Thames College and employed with Morgan Sindall on the prestigious Crossrail project.

She said: “A key benefit of my Apprenticeship is the knowledge I get from the people I work with. I see things from different perspectives and hear stories of unusual situations. It all adds up to a really in-depth perspective of the tunnelling industry.”

Promising future

She has already achieved recognition for her hard work, being named Crossrail Apprentice of the Year 2013.

Tumblepot is keen to emphasise the benefits of her Apprenticeship to others: “I can’t think of any reason why anyone shouldn’t be doing an Apprenticeship! Money, experience, education and a far more interesting work life than anything I’ve ever done before makes it a win-win experience for me.”

Tumblepot is an active advocate for Apprenticeships and has also appeared in a film about Apprenticeships in the construction sector available at

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]

Sue Husband

Above: Sue Husband, executive director of Apprenticeships and Delivery at the Skills Funding Agency.

(Top image of an apprentice is copyright Transport for London)


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