With Brexit on the horizon which will potentially impact freedom of movement and immigration between the UK and Europe, this problem is likely to be exacerbated, with a significantly smaller talent pool.
A recent BBC article said that businesses have been warning that the greatest skills shortage is in higher technical qualifications, just short of a degree.
Apprenticeships may be part of the answer to this skills shortage. For the last three years the government has continued to pledge its support of three million new apprenticeships by 2020. As of 2017/18, there were 814,800 individuals taking part in apprenticeships and 375,800 apprenticeship starts in the same year, according to the parliament website.
Despite valiant efforts from the government, it’s clear that the three million target is proving difficult to reach.
We believe that more people need to understand the types of programmes on offer and the potential career paths available to apprentices.
Historically apprenticeships have often been associated with vocational subjects. Many still believe that you must have a degree in order to be an accountant or advisor at a firm like BDO, but this is not the case.
At BDO we offer training programmes to both graduates and apprentices, this year we are recruiting for over 150 new apprenticeship positions UK-wide.
We hear many reasons why these trainees have decided against university, some just do not feel the experience is right for them and others want to avoid student debt and ‘earn while they learn’. We believe young people should feel empowered to make the decision that feels right for them.
The majority of trainees on these programmes are given the opportunity to gain a level 7 qualification, the equivalent of a masters degree but with no cost to the individual. The chance to climb the career ladder whilst still studying is a no-brainer for many of our trainees.
Recently, Anne Milton, Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships wrote in FE Week, a publication aimed at further education providers, saying “we must encourage schools to promote apprenticeships” and voicing her concerns around the fact that perceptions of teachers and parents may be blocking students from choosing this route.
We regularly hear our apprentices tell us that they felt they were discouraged to choose an apprenticeship route and were pushed towards university by their teachers, career advisors and often parents.
Since 2016, as part of our New Economy policy plan, BDO has been calling on the government to do more to support business growth and tackle the UK skills gap.
As part of this challenge, we believe the government should reform the school league table system to ensure that Ofsted give higher-level apprenticeships an equal weighting to university. As it stands this is something that would impact a school’s rating by Ofsted as their performance is currently measured in part by the number of students who go on to university.
This policy change could go a long way in changing attitudes towards university education and may mean that we see more and more students choosing to take a non-university route.
I am proud to say that many of my colleagues at BDO, including me, are not university graduates, but this has not limited our career. Our managing partner Paul Eagland started his career as a school leaver apprentice and now heads up a firm of 5,000 people.
BDO’s objective is to create a workforce that reflects the demographics of society today. This means recruiting individuals from all social and educational backgrounds, with skills in a wide variety of areas who we can help develop into the next generation of accountants and advisers.
Teresa Payne is partner and head of people at BDO