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Essential skills for apprenticeships: “a catalyst for professional development”

The Universal Framework for essential skills should play a crucial role in apprenticeships by offering a unique framework that provides transferable skills, measurable progress, and alignment with industry needs. Considering the landscape of the future workforce, the benefits of focused essential skills initiatives are hard to ignore. 

Essential skills and apprenticeships

Apprenticeships equip individuals with not just technical skills, but also communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and adaptability skills, all of which will be extremely valuable throughout their careers. 

“As a non-profit that works every day with small businesses who are taking on apprentices, we see, first-hand, the direct impact they make. It’s important for SMEs to play their part in employing young people in the early careers stage, but also the benefits go way beyond this. As apprentices are always taught the latest industry-led skills, they boost retention, productivity, morale and more often than not create opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalised groups.” Emma McWalter, Programme Manager, Workwhile commented. 

This chimes with recent findings that show 78% of small businesses have faced difficulties trying to recruit in the last 12 months, while at the same time 73% of them are facing skills shortages. 

“I think businesses often don’t realise that there are now over 850 apprenticeship standards, ranging from entry Level 2 qualifications to Bachelors and Masters degrees at Levels 6 and 7.” Emma McWalter, Workwhile. 

The benefit of essential skills is that they are truly universally applicable, from one industry to another, and have been developed and defined in this way so that anyone can start building them into their professional development. These highly transferable skills for life have been shown to support the application of technical skills and knowledge. This makes them especially crucial for apprentices, for building on and applying their technical and employability skills within a workplace environment. 

Increasing the quality of apprenticeships

A lack of high-quality training from employers has been linked with low satisfaction levels among apprentices as well as an increased chance of them dropping out of their apprenticeship. Almost half (47 per cent) of all apprentices are now dropping out before completing their course. However, those with robust onboarding processes and subsequent skills and knowledge training are far more equipped to succeed.

A focus on essential skills will help support the quality of training (off and on the job) in apprenticeships. For example, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) makes use of the Skills Builder Universal Framework in guidance on how to develop an occupational/apprenticeship standard

Employers should consider the development of essential skills using the Skills Builder Framework to build the skills and behaviours individuals need to achieve their apprenticeships. Recent research shows that 87% of participants agreed, or strongly agreed that their apprenticeship had helped them to develop skills that would aid their future employability.

Tobias Desouza, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Officer, at our partner Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP, has had the opportunity to develop essential skills throughout his apprenticeship:

Portrait of Tobias Desouza

“It’s really encouraging to reflect on the progress I’ve made in the essential skills since starting my Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Practitioner apprenticeship. Prior to this role, I had very little knowledge of these skills which are so vitally important to anyone’s personal and professional development. 

My role has given me the opportunity to work with marginalised communities, deliver volunteering and fundraising events for inspirational charities and connect with colleagues across the office. 

These responsibilities all draw on the essential skills and I now feel better equipped to progress within my role and reach my personal goals. 

My own experience of the apprenticeship model, combining theory with practical experience, has highlighted to me the importance of skills-based training and demonstrated how this can be a catalyst for professional development.” 

How can you support your apprentices?

Providing high-quality apprenticeships that have a clear focus on the essential skills has benefits for both the apprentice and the employer. 

Emma McWalter, Programme Manager at Workwhile, shared advice for employers thinking about starting an apprenticeship: “Alongside ensuring there is a strong business case,[...] you must be able to provide opportunity for the apprentice to gain the knowledge skills and behaviours needed to achieve their apprenticeship.”

Three ways to get started: 

  1. Talk about the essential skills in a consistent way
  1. Carve out time in mentoring conversations for reflection on essential skills
  1. Support apprentices to identify where the opportunities are for them to practise and apply their essential skills

Work with us to build essential skills into your apprenticeship provision. Book a free consultation with our team