Professional development Q&A - Karen Woodward of the National Apprenticeship Service

Materials World magazine
5 Nov 2013
Karen Woodward

With university tuition fees reaching £9,000 a year, apprenticeships
are an increasingly attractive alternative for many young people. But
how do they compare with higher education? And how might this affect
employers? Rachel Lawler speaks to Karen Woodward, Interim National
Director of Apprenticeships at England’s National Apprenticeship
Service, to find out.

Are apprenticeships a popular choice for young people looking for a career in engineering?

Apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular because they are a
great way for young people to get a foot on the career ladder and carry
on learning at the same time as they gain nationally recognised
qualifications alongside paid employment. Last year, more than half a
million apprentices began their training, with nearly 19,000 working in
engineering, construction and technology.

Higher apprenticeships are ideal for A-Level achievers who can gain
degree-level qualification while working. More employers are offering
these specialised and higher level apprenticeships each year on subjects
including advanced manufacturing and engineering.

Is the demand for apprentices growing?

Between February and April 2013, the number of opportunities listed on
Jobsite for apprenticeships, grew significantly with more than 32,000
vacancies advertised – an increase of almost 15% on the previous year.
There is an increasing number of opportunities opening up in prestigious
occupations as more employers use apprenticeships as a way of
attracting the best talent.

What are the benefits of studying through an apprenticeship?

Apprentices work and earn a wage while studying for a nationally
recognised qualification. This means that they are able to put into
practice in the workplace what they have learned in their studies. And
alongside the hard, technical skills they gain, they also get the chance
to learn some of the softer skills needed in the workplace that
employers value so much.

An apprenticeship also helps secure future success. 85% of apprentices
stay in employment and two thirds remain with the same employer.
Research from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills showed
that a third of former apprentices had received a promotion within a
year of completing their course, and three quarters reported taking on
more responsibility in their jobs.

How do Higher Level Apprenticeships compare to full-time university education?

What works for one student may not be appropriate for another. It is
important that people choose the option that is right for them and their
individual needs. However, higher apprenticeships are giving young
people who have chosen not to go to university another high quality
option. A recent study of more than 500 recruiters by ICM Research found
that qualified higher apprentices are the most desirable new recruits
for some employers and are considered to be 15% more employable than
those with other qualifications. A recent report by the Centre for
Economics and Business Research also shows that higher apprenticeships
increase earnings by £150,000 over a lifetime – this figure is
comparable to a graduate’s earning capacity.

Do employers benefit from taking on an apprentice rather than a graduate?

It very much depends on the circumstances of the employer. But what we
do know, from speaking to employers, is that apprenticeships are a way
of bringing in talent at a much younger age. New recruits can be moulded
and shaped in a way that best suits the business.

According to the British Chambers of Commerce, most employers view
apprentices as advantageous to their long-term development, with 96% of
those that hire apprentices reporting benefits to their business. Two
thirds of apprentice employers say that the benefits include improved
products or services, the introduction of new ideas, improved staff
morale and better staff retention.

Are there any downsides to this method of recruitment? For some
employers, recruiting an apprentice can seem daunting, but in fact it is
really simple. There may also be some funding to support the training.
The Government funds 100% of the apprenticeship training costs if the
apprentice is aged 16–18 and 50% if they are 19–23 years old. In
addition, if a business has fewer than 1,000 employees and has not
employed an apprentice in the last 12 months, they may be eligible for
the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers of £1,500 per apprentice.

Whatever the sector or size of business, we want to help more employers
to take advantage of the benefits that apprenticeships can offer, and
with the growing number of young people seriously considering this
option, there has really never been a better time to hire an apprentice.


£8,610 - average annual tuition fees for undergraduate courses in the UK

£150,000 - lifetime salary increase after completing a Higher Level Apprenticeship

3,700 Higher Level Apprenticeships available in the UK in 2012

96% of businesses report benefits after hiring apprentices

  • To find out more about apprenticeships and the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers, visit or call the National Apprenticeship Service on 08000 150 600.