The current landscape
Apprenticeships have been hit hard in recent years. The restrictions of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 lead to a significant drop-off in new starts, and many apprentices were furloughed or made redundant. For others, off-the-job learning was suspended.
In 2017, the government introduced a new apprenticeship levy, designed to incentivise employers to take on new apprentices. However, this hasn’t worked out as intended, with organisations citing difficult-to-understand systems, staff shortages, and a shortfall in funding as barriers to success.
Added to this, FES educators are leaving the profession in record numbers – an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report in 2023 found that 25% of college teachers leave the profession after one year, and nearly 50% leave after 3 years. The same report discovered that pay for FES teachers has fallen by 18% in real terms since 2010-2011.
While the exact number of apprenticeship providers in the UK is not known, the latest government figures show that just over 337,000 learners started apprenticeship programmes in England in academic year 2022/2023. This represents a fall of 3% compared to the previous academic year, and a drop of nearly 34% compared to academic year 2015/2016.
The Advanced Trends Survey 2023/2024 reveals a digital skills gap prevalent across UK business and industry – 13 % of our respondents say the digital skills gap is the biggest problem facing their organisation today. This is also true for education professionals, with 14% of respondents highlighting the digital skills gap as the number one priority for their school or organisation.
Amongst educators, there is a desire to implement new technological solutions. The Trends survey shows that digital transformation is a core business priority for 20% of educators over the next 12 months, while 34% say they plan to upgrade their digital systems.
Implementing these changes, however, remains far from straightforward. Along with a shortfall in funding for digital transformation, many apprenticeship providers do not have enough employees with the requisite digital skills to carry out the necessary improvements.
Despite these challenges, there are signs of hope on the horizon, with courses on new and emerging technologies forming an important part of the apprenticeship offering. It is hoped that these courses will produce a workforce capable of bridging the current digital skills gap in UK industry.
Apprenticeships in AI are becoming increasingly common; AI is an area of rapid growth, and has become an integral part of many businesses and industries – including ITPs and other training providers. As such, AI professionals will soon be in great demand, and we expect the number of AI apprenticeships to grow in turn.
There is also a growing trend for in-work apprenticeships. These are for employees in existing roles who wish to upskill, giving employers a cost-effective way to develop their workforce. Digital Marketing and Data Science are areas of particularly high growth.
Also rising are the number of new apprenticeships available, offering a route into more markets for post-16 and higher education learners. The UK government recently announced a new space systems apprenticeship, ready for launch in September 2024, and the first ever NHS doctor apprenticeship, to begin in the same month.
In 2023’s Autumn budget, the chancellor announced an additional £50m over two years to boost the number of apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing. The additional funding is also designed to offset the high costs of equipment and training facilities for employers.
At the same time, it was announced that the minimum wage for apprentices would increase by 20% from April 2024, benefiting an estimated 40,000 apprentices. It is hoped that better pay will increase the number of learners starting and finishing apprenticeships.
Other changes are likely to be brought about by a change in government. If Labour wins the 2024 general election, the party is expected to make significant alternations to the current apprenticeship levy. One proposal will permit firms to spend 50% of their levy contribution on non-apprenticeship training such as modular courses and digital functional skills.
With multiple changes and challenges to take on, training providers will need effective digital solutions to streamline their operations. And while technology can’t do much about low pay and government policy, it can certainly make life easier for learners taking GCSE resits, and for managers organising ILRs.
Advanced’s Learner Management System (formerly PICS) is used by over 450 apprenticeship providers in the UK. Made for the accurate recording of ILRs, the system ensures data remains ESFA-compliant, and makes it easy to export ILR data for submission. The system comes with a host of powerful and intuitive reporting capabilities, and can be integrated with other Advanced software, including Smart Assessor and eportfolio.
Assessment and Learning (formerly bksb) is an engaging learning platform for students taking maths and English resits, and for the study of digital functional skills. The software uses adaptive AI to give an accurate assessment of ability, and features carefully designed modules for stress-free progression. Courses are accessible online, giving learners the freedom to study in their free time, and the software is kept up to date with test preparation materials from all the main exam boards.