Once we’ve played catch up, the UK can only become a gold medal economy by training for the future

Scott Mullins, Managing Director at Pimlico.

Scott Mullins

Scott Mullins, CEO, Pimlico Plumbers shares his thoughts on the importance of training and apprenticeships in order to create a successful and sustainable economy.

The most recent job numbers are a good indicator that the economy is getting back on track after the shockwave caused by the pandemic.

However, businesses need to also look beyond the here and now and invest in the future if we’re really going to create a strong and sustainable economic and social future for this country. And that, of course, has to be built around a focus on apprenticeships.

According to the most recent data from the Office of National Statistic, the number of payroll employees showed an increase, up 356,000 to 28.9 million in June.

This is a continuing trend, which began at the end of last year, but is still more than 200,000 below pre-Covid levels.

There’s confidence in the market, plus the furlough scheme will be scrapped in September, so the gap can be narrowed.

It’s like the economy is an Olympic runner lagging several metres behind the pack with a chance of a medal. During that one race they can use all their strength and ability to close the gap and maybe even win, but how they do it consistently in the next race, and the one after that.

Any athlete will tell you it’s all down to training, and for businesses it’s exactly the same. We have to create a workforce that has the skills and capabilities to contribute to the economy and, for a lot of sectors, that means bringing on more apprentices.

While academic education still has a place, the scales have to be tipped much more towards vocational training, because it gives young people, and adults in some cases, exposure to the skills they need from day one, which means they are ‘work ready’ from the moment they complete their course.

Now, I know this isn’t a new argument. At Pimlico, we’ve been banging on about the importance of apprenticeships for years. We’ve always put our money where our mouth is, by investing in our training programmes and taking on as many apprentices as we can.

The impact of the pandemic has made it more important than ever before and the upturn in the economy should make employers, who jettisoned their training budgets when Covid hit, think again and reverse a trend that could have a devastating effect on the UK’s future.

Despite the employment numbers ticking up, apprenticeship starts were down by nearly seven percent to 253,100 compared to 271,800 reported for the same August to April period in 2019/20.

This stat is from the latest figures for the 2020/21 academic year that show adult government-funded further education and skills participation decreased by 11 percent to 1,445,100 in comparison to 1,624,200 for the previous year.

We have to turn this around for the sake of our young people and our businesses.

With the current academic year having just ended we’re going through our annual recruitment process to take on new apprentices. Unsurprisingly we’re inundated with applications from more people than we have places.

With a better and more common-sense funding model, we have the ambition to have an apprentice for every one of our 350 engineers. But until that happens, we’ll take on as many as we can, which is currently more than 70 and isn’t just tradespeople, but also head office staff in our accounts, marketing and customer service departments.

This of course, will leave many disappointed but does prove that there are the young people out there with the determination to start a career through the vocational route.

Employers should sit up and pay attention to this and show the confidence to either restart and grow a scheme they mothballed, sadly using that all-too-common phrase, ‘due to Covid’, or take a leap of faith and take on apprentices for the first time.

I have no doubt refreshing the country’s commitment to apprentices will not only help businesses keep ahead of the chasing pack, but put them on the medals podium for many years to come.