Apprenticeships: an age-old solution to 21st century challenges

With record low unemployment rates across Europe, businesses are struggling to recruit workers, as there are not enough people with right skills available – impacting business performance and productivity. Unemployment keeps falling across the European Union and now stands at 6.3%, compared to 7.1 last year. It’s even lower in Germany, which has a jobless rate of just 3.1% and the UK, where it is 3.7%.

These figures are, of course, good news for workers, who are in growing demand and can pick and choose where they work. But falling unemployment comes with a big downside for employers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit people with the skills needed to drive business success. There just aren’t enough of them around.

Threats to business performance

In the UK, the vast majority of organisations (91%) struggled to find workers with the right skills over the past 12 months, with more than half (53%) expecting the situation to get even worse, according to research from the Open University. “Employers are paying a high price to ensure their organisations have the skills required to remain productive, with the shortfall now costing an extra £6.33 billion a year in recruitment fees, inflated salaries, temporary staff and training for workers hired at a lower level than intended,” notes the latest Open University Business Barometer report on the UK’s skills landscape.

It’s a similar picture in Germany, where an ageing population and shrinking labour force have led to fierce competition for skilled talent. A survey by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry shows that 60% of German companies now see skills shortages as a threat to their business performance.  

Skills gaps don’t just damage productivity. As the Open University points out, companies without the right skills lack the agility that’s critical for success in today’s changeable political, economic and technological climate.

Filling the skills gaps 

In response to these challenges, employers in both countries are looking to grow their own skills by hiring more apprentices.  

Apprenticeships are an integral part of Germany’s much admired dual vocational education system. However, with fewer young people now entering this system, employers have started recruiting apprentices from non-traditional sources, including refugees who have entered  the country in recent years.  

In the UK, apprenticeships fell into decline in the late 20th century, but a revived system is targeting people who in the past might not have considered this form of on-the-job training. Apprenticeship schemes are now open not only to school leavers but to adults over 25. There are even people in their 40s and 50s using apprenticeships as a route into new careers.   

Benefits of apprenticeships

Apprenticeships have a long history, but they remain highly relevant to 21st century organisations. According to the UK’s National Apprenticeship Service, 78% of organisations with established apprenticeship programmes have seen their productivity increase, with improvements in the quality of products or services also widely reported. Other benefits include improved staff morale and increased retention

“Apprenticeship programmes when aligned to business goals and objectives can bridge skills gaps, while reducing the substantial recruitment costs involved in hiring people trained by other organisations,” says Mark Oliver, Managing Director EMEA at Raytheon Professional Services, which designs and manages apprenticeship programmes in areas ranging from automotive manufacturing to cyber-security and leadership and management.  

Arguing that these programmes benefit individual apprentices as much as their organisations, Oliver adds: “As career models change, with employees needing to keep re-skilling and re-inventing themselves throughout increasingly long working lives, apprenticeship programmes provide valuable opportunities to gain new skills and follow new career paths.”

Next steps

If skills shortages are holding your business back, could an apprenticeship programme offer a sustainable solution?  How would it work, and what are the advantages of joining up with an external partner?

These are just some of the questions that will be explored at the 7th annual Raytheon Symposium, hosted by Raytheon Professional Services, in partnership with CorporateLeaders. Bringing together senior HR, Learning & Development and Training leaders, this collaborative learning event will be held in London on 26th September and in Frankfurt on 10th October. 

To register for one of these exclusive events, visit