Charlie Reeve, a leading expert in early careers recruitment and director at Gradconsult continues our series of blogs to mark National Apprenticeship Week...

I’ve hired over 400 apprentices over the last 10 years, mostly to fulfil one business need. Many businesses today in the UK are facing an unprecedented problem – they have a top-heavy work force of ageing employees who will retire in the next 10 years. The numbers simply don’t stack up. For example, in a transport business I worked for, the operational engineering team in one region was comprised mostly of 55 year olds. It is easy to see the ticking time bomb this business was facing.

And it's particularly problematic for businesses that need technical expertise, hence the traditional apprenticeship focus on engineering and trade skills. As we move forward into the digital era, the need to expand apprenticeship provision is vital for our future success as a country. You can see how much this problem means to the UK government by the slew of recent warnings on future retirement age and reductions in state pension provisions.

Another important reason why companies like apprentices is because they provide what is termed a “talent push”. The employee workforce is encouraged by business leaders to continually improve, and they're looking for ways to pull their talent upwards. Used as a mechanism on its own has limited effectiveness. Many apprentices provide a talent push, introducing fresh ideas, a willingness to learn and in general are more adaptable to change than the more established, longer serving employees. When combined with the talent pull effect, this drives productivity faster than usual. 

Apprentices are vital to many businesses – but as with any development or skills programme, there is a wide variety in the quality of the experiences provided by businesses. The new Apprenticeship Levy will put pressure on employers to demand quality education alongside providing a quality apprenticeship experience.