WMCA targets apprenticeships for the 21st century

An apprenticeship system fit for the 21st century is the target of a new drive by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

It aims to ensure closer working between employers, training providers, colleges and universities so the region has the skills base it will need in the years to come.

As part of the drive, Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street is calling on the government to help the region support more disadvantaged young people access apprenticeship opportunities.

Other priorities will include working to make the system easier for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to get support for apprenticeship training, with a focus on more apprenticeships in higher level skills, and in technology and engineering based occupations.

The drive follows a fall in apprenticeships nationally and concerns that fewer employers are offering them.

In 2016/17 a total of 42,470 apprenticeships were awarded in the WMCA area, which was just over 8% of the national total of 485,500. In the wider West Midlands it was 59,790, representing just over 12% of the national figure.

The WMCA commissioned a major survey of employers across the region, conducted with the Chambers of Commerce, CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Engineering Employers federation and the Federation of Small Businesses.

The Mayor said: “Too often, apprenticeships are seen as something nice to do rather than as a targeted strategy to find new talent or improve the skills of existing employees.

“We want more companies to consider how apprenticeships could be part of their plans for recruiting future skills and meeting their labour needs.

“That means a completely different approach – one which looks at how best to source future talent, by building supply chains with schools, colleges and universities, influencing their education and training provision, and inspiring more young people to consider careers in key growth sectors.”

Cllr George Duggins, leader of Coventry City Council and WMCA portfolio holder for Skills and Productivity, said: “Each year, the region’s colleges and universities train and develop thousands of young people.

“We need employers to review what training is on offer and tell us what’s missing or what isn’t good enough, then engage in shaping the solutions.

“We need to invest in our current and future workforce to deliver strong and inclusive economic growth. Apprenticeships offer a key route to improve business productivity and support individuals in developing and progressing their careers.”

A total of 565 firms took part in the apprenticeship survey, which was conducted in spring 2018.

It was conducted through the three Chambers of Commerce – Black Country, Coventry and Warwickshire, and Greater Birmingham – plus the Confederation of British Industry, the Engineering Employers Federation, the Institute of Directors, and the Federation of Small Businesses.

It found:

  • Two-thirds (65%) of West Midlands companies are already engaged with at least one wider organisation such as colleges or training providers for help with recruitment, training and/or apprenticeships
  • Two-fifths (41%) of companies currently employ at least one apprentice – with a much higher occurrence in bigger organisations: 93% of large companies employ apprentices compared to 54% of SMEs and 30% of micro businesses
  • Companies that don’t use apprenticeships mainly stated it was because they were unclear about the benefits of apprenticeships, and how apprentices would fit with their business and wider workforce development strategy.
  • The majority (58%) of companies employing apprentices had not experienced recent difficulties in taking on apprentices
  • Those that had (16%) referred to problems in finding the right provider and/or the lack of good quality applicants

For further details on the survey email Julie Nugent, WMCA Director of Productivity and Skills, at

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