The UK’s economy is poised to benefit from an increased focus on apprenticeships

Apprenticeships could transform the labor force in this city.
Apprenticeships could transform the labor force in this city.
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Big or small, every country requires one common fundamental to be successful: the ability to employ its people in quality jobs. Until relatively recently, the conversation around job growth focused on whether there were enough jobs of any kind. Now, policymakers need to know if they’re the right kind and whether there are people prepared to fill them.

That’s the sticking point for many of the UK’s entry-level vacancies in mid-skilled occupations like personal care and metal work, according to new data analysis from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and Burning Glass Technologies, which has been supported by J.P. Morgan. “The mismatches are even more acute within some local areas,” said IPPR Senior Research Fellow Giselle Cory. “For example, London employers are particularly struggling to find qualified entry-level IT technicians, while Birmingham employers are struggling to find entry-level metal workers and engineering technicians.”

Because of the gap—specifically because many of these entry-level shortages are directly tied to the availability of suitable young workers—the UK has begun to rethink its policies and approach towards apprenticeships. As many local pockets of post-recession youth unemployment persist, an IPPR report (pdf, pg 36) found that a rise in new apprenticeships over the last five years mostly benefited those over 25 (frequently those already working where the apprenticeship opening appeared). They also disproportionately went to men over women.

These statistics suggest that the apprenticeship opportunity landscape ignores a large swath of young, potential skilled labor just when it’s in great demand. Luckily, a number of public and private initiatives are attempting to bridge the gap, broaden the system, and make it more productive.

A 2016 IPPR study (pdf, pg 6) outlines the UK government’s goal to create three million apprenticeships over the next five years. Through the implementation of a levy or tax collected as a percentage of any employer whose salary expenditures exceed £3 million, the government will allocate funds to companies based on the new apprenticeships they offer. “The more apprentices they train, the more of the levy they can recoup; and if they train enough apprentices, they will be a net beneficiary of the fund,” the report states.

Yet not all new apprenticeships are created equal, and the UK government aims to establish new standards to inspire the growth of skilled apprenticeships that position students for success down the road. Similar to the menial coffee-fetching internships of the US and elsewhere, regulators hope to eliminate low-skill apprenticeships that aren’t providing worthwhile experience or serving as a springboard to the sectors that desperately need capable workers.

These government efforts will be supplemented by private and nonprofit efforts. For example, J.P. Morgan’s collaboration with CIPD, has helped create a link between businesses and young people seeking employment, creating the potential for increased economic growth. Such initiatives are particularly important to expanding the apprenticeship opportunities in smaller businesses, as these organizations are often better able than bigger government entities at maximizing close relationships and local knowledge.

As the UK moves on from the recession of nearly a decade ago and shifts to face future challenges, addressing structural employment issues like the availability and productivity of young workers in skilled professions will be critical. The old foundations of UK apprenticeship practices may take time to adjust, but the new structure has a chance to energize a generation of workers and employers alike.

This article was produced on behalf of J.P. Morgan by Quartz creative services and not by the Quartz editorial staff.