This week is National Apprenticeships Week, and I’m championing apprentices and employers across Barnsley and South Yorkshire who have a pivotal role to play in supporting our economic recovery and renewal in the aftermath of Covid. Here in South Yorkshire, we’ve got a plan to shape our future regional economy, focusing on making it better, as well as bigger, to serve our people and communities. Fully funded, our Renewal Action Plan (RAP) would create 55,000 job and training opportunities and 3,000 high-skilled apprenticeships – putting jobs at the heart of our Covid recovery.
Apprenticeships are critical to South Yorkshire’s future prosperity. They can deliver a step-change improvement in the skills needed in the world of work and ensure that our workforce is best equipped to respond to future developments. Improving skills and accessing lifelong learning will make a tangible difference to all our futures. We’re helping people develop their skills to meet current workforce demands as well as the needs of our region’s future growth industries. The aim is to guarantee that anyone who wants education, training or an apprenticeship will have an opportunity to do so and be supported into sustainable employment.
Over the past few years, we have seen between 10,000 and 15,000 apprentices start their courses. Research shows that apprenticeships contribute towards increased employee satisfaction, with apprentices able to earn around £117,000 extra over the course of their working lives. It also means improved staff retention and reduced recruitment costs for employers. An estimated 90% of apprentices are retained by their employers, with nearly a quarter being promoted within a year. From the employer’s point of view, hiring apprentices is common sense – reducing costs and building a more resilient workforce.
There are some fantastic case studies that demonstrate the practical difference hiring and retraining apprenticeships can have for local firms – apprentices who are achieving success and enhancing their future careers. For example, the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre’s (AMRC) Niall Dawson, who has helped to save £50k a year in production costs; and Emma Harrison at Whyy? Change, who is retraining at age 46 to help her progress in her role to support her employer’s growth and expansion. In Barnsley, we’ve got fantastic further and adult education colleges, such as Barnsley College and Northern College, leading the way in offering a wide range of apprenticeships, skills and training opportunities.
Despite the importance of apprenticeships to our future economic prosperity, Covid is stalling the in-house development of skilled workers and the creation of apprenticeships. In 2019/20 we saw around 270,000 apprenticeships start, but that is expected to decrease for 2020 and beyond, creating the risk of future skills shortages and loss of knowledge in the coming years as existing staff retire or change employers. We are demonstrating our commitment to apprenticeships, skills and lifelong learning here in South Yorkshire. But we need to see the same level of commitment from central government if our economy is to weather the storm of the pandemic. That’s why I’m calling on the Government to back a massive expansion in apprenticeships as we start to drive our region’s recovery and renewal from Covid. The work we have already done shows that we can harness the power of apprenticeships to help our residents in South Yorkshire develop the skills they need to secure good jobs and help our businesses and regional economy thrive. Now we need Rishi Sunak to commit to backing our Renewal Action Plan, giving Mayors and local leaders the powers and resources we need to transform our economies and create the thousands of high-skilled, well-paid jobs and apprenticeships of the future.