The devastating impact of Covid-19 on the economy has accelerated a push for green jobs and upskilling existing workforces to meet future needs.
With this comes an opportunity to tear up the rule book on traditional routes to employment, champion inclusive training programmes and highlight growth areas such as digital and sustainability.
But against a backdrop of economic downturn and mass unemployment, meeting the challenges posed by the pandemic is no easy task and many companies have been forced to scale back apprenticeship schemes at a time when they are most needed.
“We’re certainly seeing some employers more reluctant to hire apprentices this year due to economic uncertainty. However, we are seeing growth in digital technology apprenticeships as employers ensure they have digital skills,” says David Crew, head of business growth and employer partnership at Weston College.
With more than 2,000 apprentices across Bristol and beyond, Weston College is responding to the need to tackle existing skills gap by offering higher level apprenticeships in areas such as data analytics and cyber security.
David adds: “Apprenticeships are vital for social mobility but also a huge opportunity for employers to create a diverse talent pipeline, bringing in trainees with a different perspective and skillset.”
Like businesses, training providers are having to adapt fast to keep up with changing times.
Duncan Silvey, a work placement officer in creative & digital, engineering and motor vehicles at City of Bristol College says creative thinking is required to deliver vocational courses for 16 to 19-year-olds.
“My colleagues and I are looking for employers who are willing to do a hybrid of onsite and digital placements running in tandem,” he says.
“We are looking at creating ‘industry placement’ projects that can be run alongside classroom teaching, and inviting outside professionals to mentor, guide and give feedback on learner progression.”
South Gloucestershire & Stroud College directly delivers a range of apprenticeship courses, from software developer or cyber security technologist to business administration. The college recruits more than 600 apprentices a year for employers and offers incentives for businesses to engage with the programmes on offer.
But a growing number of companies are already recognising the business benefits of taking on apprentices.
Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD), an international law firm with offices in Temple Quay, was one of the first in the industry to offer apprenticeship placements.
“In a profession not typically known for its diversity or accessibility, we have a strong focus on social mobility,” explains Sam Lee, head of recruitment in WBD’s Bristol office.
“We’re committed to opening up new routes into the legal profession and improving employability for young people.”
Last year, WBD collaborated with Bristol City Council to launch a solicitor apprenticeship programme. The next stage is to look at secondments between the two organisations so that all apprentices get the opportunity to experience life in private practice and an in-house legal team.
Martyn Brooks, contracts manager for Barratt David Wilson Homes South West leads the apprenticeship programme for the company’s regional office and believes it is an excellent route into the construction industry.
“The obligation is to get them to NVQ2 but some go on to NVQ3,” Martyn tells Bristol24/7. “We have had carpenters who have gone on to be trainee site managers.” He admits things have been impacted by the pandemic, which is having a knock-on effect with fewer apprenticeship roles available next year.
Millie Rooker is a technical apprentice with Barratt Bristol and the first in her family to embark on a career in the construction industry.
“The best thing about it my apprenticeship is it gives me the practical knowledge to understand first-hand how a construction site works and what all the different project stages and roles are,” says the 17-year-old.
“When I’m learning about building foundations or looking at the science side of things at college such as understanding U-values for thermal insultation or energy efficiency, I’m seeing all that happening at work too. And I’m also getting experience of the workplace and building relationships with people, and the team are great at involving me.”
From March to September this year, the unemployment rate in Bristol grew to 6.6 per cent – a dramatic increase from 2.5 per cent for this period in 2019 – and it comes just as the furlough scheme is coming to an end, forcing some businesses to close and potentially leading to yet more job losses.
Business West is one of the organisations spearheading collective efforts to accelerate the region’s economic recovery.
Commenting on the current situation, Nicky Williams, head of skills at Business West, says: “As a result of coronavirus, we have gone from near full employment and employers struggling to fill vacancies, to significant numbers of people out of work or in so-called ‘zombie jobs’ and looking to retrain.
“Despite the many challenges that we face, coronavirus also presents a once in a generation opportunity to transform our workforce for the future. The pandemic has led to a seismic shift in the way we live, work and do business, accelerating skills trends that we as a region stand ready to capitalise on.
“Trends such as automation, digitisation and clean growth will need to be even more at the forefront of our thinking in terms of retraining, reskilling and upskilling the existing workforce, as well as creating new and meaningful career pathways for young people, as we move forward.”
The Government has pledged £350m to help fuel a green economic recovery and cut carbon emissions and is providing funding to employers to create job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit through the Kickstart scheme.
For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Workforce for the Future programme – an £8m project co-funded by the West of England Combined Authority and the European Social Fund (ESF) – is helping companies develop their workforce to meet their current and future needs.
Bristol City Council is also running a number of programmes to support businesses, young people and employees needing to retrain or upskill.
Through the Ways2Work service, Future Bright Career Coaches are on hand to work with anyone who is on low pay, at risk of losing their job, or has recently been made redundant or lost hours.
Bristol WORKS was formed to build a collaboration between employers, learning providers, and local communities in order to develop a skilled local workforce.
Speaking about the work, Anna Keen, Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for education and skills says: “It is young people in particular who have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
“Bristol WORKS is continuing to work in a targeted and bespoke way to develop meaningful experiences of work with employers to inspire and prepare young people across the City about the world of work.
“Alongside this, WORKS are providing support to businesses to develop their future talent pipeline across the city.”
Operating in a growth area, Paintworks-based tech career accelerator Develop Me has adapted its training courses and is expanding its offering in a bid to drive inclusive employment opportunities. The company is set to launch of a new Tech Pathway programme, offering £40,000 in scholarships for people who are underrepresented in the tech sector; to learn how to code and begin new careers as software developers.
Al Kennedy, co-founder and director of Develop Me, says: “As a business, we sit at the interface between working online ourselves and also helping people looking to change careers or upskill during this transformative period.
“We see the rising demand for more flexible and future proof career pathways. So, we are excited to be able to meet this demand and launch our highly successful Coding Fellowship Bootcamp in a part-time format from next April – delivering flexible learning to allow a career transition while still in employment.
“As the digital revolution increasingly touches every aspect of our lives; now more than ever, the UK needs a technology workforce that reflects the full diversity of the people who use that technology.”
Further information on some of the current schemes and programmes is available via
Main photo courtesy of Develop Me
Read more: Sector spotlight: tech