Apprenticeship Series: The Age of Apprenticeships

So far this blog has been based on my perspective, so I asked my colleagues from a range of training programmes, to share the number one question they’re asked about apprenticeships. Unanimously, they replied:

“Aren’t apprenticeships just for school-leavers?”

This sparked a discussion about how employers are missing out on diversifying and upskilling their workforce, how levy money is being wasted and how many incorrect assumptions are still commonly held. 

Look Beyond

With the National Apprenticeship Week 2020 theme announced as “Look Beyond,” we are being encouraged to challenge the stereotypes associated with apprenticeships, technical careers and typical career pathways.

Focusing on school leavers as apprentices, employers are missing the opportunity to use the levy to support career changes, upskilling, and return to work opportunities which are relevant and inclusive to a diverse range of people.

Diversity is a key ingredient to the success of a workforce. McKinsey’s “Diversity Matters” report shows that businesses with diversity in gender, racial and ethnic, age, sexual orientation and experience “are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.” In a sector with a talent deficit, it makes sense to look beyond the typical graduate talent pool which so many employers fight over. 

Apprenticeships for Career Change

The Cambridge Spark team have first-hand experience of the demand for life-long learning in digital skills. Long before delivering our apprenticeships, we were already running career converting bootcamps, enabling a range of professionals to move into the Data Science field. 

The decision to change your career is a big deal, driven either by an external need, for example, a lack of employment opportunities, or personal motivations, for example, being interested in new challenges. The career changers we work with are motivated and excited by the opportunity to become Data Scientists, committed to employers who support them in achieving their goal. 

Options such as returning to university or full-time learning bring a huge cost and a lack of practical experience which often deter people from taking the risk to change careers. As paid learning programmes, with 80% of the time spent working for the employer, apprenticeships represent an affordable solution for those seeking to take their first steps in a new field. 

For employers, the attraction of upskilling professionals with skills and experience from other sectors into their workforce is obvious. Research carried out by IET shows “73% of employers... have had problems with candidates who have academic knowledge but not the required workplace skills.” Transferable skills gained in other roles and workplaces are already present in career changers, bringing best practices and fresh perspectives to the team. The technical skills taught through apprenticeships are often picked up more quickly than the workplace behaviours. 


In their brilliantly named report “Will robots really steal our jobs?” PWC investigated the transformation that increased automation will bring to the workplace. They surmise; “In the long run, less well-educated workers could be particularly exposed to automation, emphasising the importance of increased investment in lifelong learning and retraining.” This is a sentiment we see echoed throughout research on future workplaces.

Since the levy has come into effect we’ve been working with employers to upskill their staff. Even non-technical roles, like HR, Marketing and Sales, are requiring a data-driven approach to measure their business impact, for which our Data Analyst apprenticeship is perfect. Some roles are disappearing completely so employers are retaining and reskilling top talent to take on completely new technical roles with greater long term business value. 

As demands of business change, so too must the workforce. CIPD states that “redundancy can be one of the most distressing events an employee can experience,” highlighting that it also has a negative impact on “the productivity and morale of the remaining workforce.” Future-proofing your organisation and protecting your employees with a STEM apprenticeship makes good business sense for both employers and employees.

Return to Work

There are many reasons people fall out of the mainstream world of work: childcare, caring for relatives, health reasons (both mental and physical) or a desire to travel to name a few. Going through a big life event that leads to an unconventional career path equips someone with skills, experience and a perspective which are different from those who have followed a traditional route. People who have stepped “outside the box” often have the kind of creative thinking which leads to innovation and business success. 

Typically, although not exclusively, the people who take a break from full-time employment to take on caring responsibilities are women. Data Science and other tech sectors suffer from a lack of gender equality, as demonstrated by Amazon’s AI recruitment software that “learned” to filter out women candidates based on previously successful candidate CVs. Technology evolves quickly and using an apprenticeship programme to bring them back into the workplace, upskilled with the latest trends provides an attractive, supportive and cost-effective way to diversify your technical teams and gain a commercial advantage. 

You can catch up on the past Apprenticeship Series, in case you missed any, below:

Digital Apprenticeship Meetup:

If you’re wanting to join the next meetup, you can follow our movements here.

Level 4 Data Analyst Apprenticeship

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Written by Jules Wix
Apprenticeship & Talent Manager,
Cambridge Spark

Jules Wix Apprenticeships and Talent Manager Cambridge Spark

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