Simon Collins on apprenticeships reform | KPMG | UK

How quality apprenticeships can close the skills gap, boost economic growth and increase social mobility

Simon Collins on apprenticeships reform

KPMG Chairman and Senior Partner, Simon Collins, makes the business case for investing in a strong apprenticeship programme.

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UK Chairman and Senior Partner Emeritus

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Simon Collins on apprenticeships reform

By Simon Collins, Chairman and Senior Partner, KPMG in the UK

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union revealed a fractured, socially divided nation. In many respects, this is nothing new. The UK is one of the least socially mobile countries in the developed world and this means we are not making the most of the talent the UK has to offer. 

Skills shortages continue to pose a challenge to economic productivity and will be a key focus of the government’s upcoming industrial strategy. This summer’s annual CBI survey of 500 employers found that 69% were concerned about not being able to find enough highly-skilled staff, compared with 55% last year. 

It’s clear the absence of a strong technical education route in the UK, combining on and off-the-job training, has contributed to low social mobility across the country and hindered much of the adult population’s opportunity to learn and develop new skills. 

The government’s Apprenticeship Levy, coming into force next April, aims to address this. It will drive significant investment in technical education, making it accessible both for young people starting out in their careers and existing staff who want to develop their skills. This expansion in apprenticeships has the potential to drastically narrow the skills gap and offer a credible alternative to the traditional academic pathway. But only if it is delivered effectively.

New research from the think tank Policy Exchange, sponsored by KPMG, makes it clear that in order for the benefits of the apprenticeship system to be realised, the government needs to put quality at the heart of all apprenticeship programmes.

The report’s recommendations fall under three key themes. First, that more clarity should be provided around the goals of the apprenticeship programme and specifically around what an apprenticeship must consist of to be publicly funded. Secondly, that appropriate systems be put in place to ensure that all apprenticeships provided are of the highest quality. And finally, that the apprenticeship system is supported by an appropriate infrastructure and funding model, suggesting that the newly formed Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education should be at the heart of this.

While these reforms will mean a shift in strategy for the business community, they offer an opportunity to think about how businesses can use apprenticeships to nurture talent and increase diversity at all levels. At KPMG we have invested heavily in our own apprenticeship scheme, KPMG360°, which has helped us attract talented people who otherwise wouldn’t have joined our firm, perhaps deterred by the traditional graduate entry route.

Our clients have also asked us to help them make the most of the apprenticeship reforms.  Together with The Open University we have launched an apprenticeship service that enables employers to identify and fulfil their future training needs.  The scheme will help organisations identify skills gaps and provide and manage their training programmes.

There is a clear business case for investing in a strong apprenticeship programme.  Apprenticeships can help businesses reach a wide range of talented candidates, who bring with them diverse experience, skills and offer a new outlook for our clients.  I believe that coupled with our traditional graduate programme, apprenticeships will play a crucial role in helping KPMG to attract and train the next generation of talent in our workforce.

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