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Employers turn to school leaver apprenticeships to attract diverse talent

During National Apprenticeship Week (6-12 February) new research from Grant Thornton UK LLP shows that employers are increasingly looking to apprenticeships to attract diverse, talented young people to their business.

All but two of the 603 mid-market business leaders who responded to Grant Thornton’s latest Business Outlook Tracker* survey said that they currently hire young people who have completed their A-Levels (or equivalent exams) into apprenticeship roles, with almost three quarters (71%) saying they hire more school leavers in their business than before the pandemic. 70% agree that hiring school leavers is as important to their business as hiring university graduates.

According to ONS data collected in February 2022, more than 9 in 10 (91%) of university students were worried about the cost of living. Half (50%) felt they had financial difficulties and more than three-quarters (77%) of students were concerned that the rising cost of living may affect how well they do in their studies. For young people, these increasing financial burdens from self-funded higher education could explain the rising demand for paid apprenticeships.

Employers also see additional strategic benefits, with three in four (74%) respondents to Grant Thornton’s survey agreeing that school leaver apprenticeships increase opportunity for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds within their business and 69% agreeing that school leavers perform just as well as graduates.

Perry Burton, Head of People and Brand, Grant Thornton UK LLP, said:

Mid-market employers are discovering the benefits of using apprenticeships as a development tool. These employers are strategically using apprenticeships to address issues such as improving diversity in the workforce, achieving sustainable recruitment, and replacing traditional graduate programs with highly desirable qualifications.

“Apprenticeships offer flexibility and the ability to tailor courses for specific development needs, making them particularly valuable to employers. These programs provide opportunities for training in high priority areas such as digital skills, finance, data analysis, and management, bringing new skills into the business and benefiting every organisation.

“At Grant Thornton, we are passionate advocates of apprenticeships as a valuable and effective route for young people to become trusted business and financial advisers. Apprenticeships promote social mobility in our communities and ensure a diverse and highly skilled talent pipeline for our firm, enabling us to provide top-quality service with teams that reflect the clients we serve.”

Grant Thornton UK LLP recruits hundreds of school leavers every year. In 2021, this saw 103 school leavers join as a cohort of apprentices. But as it looks to expand its own talent pool by taking on individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, the firm has boosted that to 193 for 2022 – a record intake.

Bethany Duffy is an Audit Associate in Grant Thornton’s Public Sector Audit team.

She joined the firm as a school leaver in 2018 and was awarded North West Higher or Degree Apprentice of the Year at the National Apprenticeship Awards in 2022. She says:

“Back in 2018 I had the decision of whether to go to university or complete an Apprenticeship, but I always felt like the apprenticeship route was the right choice for me as I wanted to learn how to do the job as opposed to just learning about the subject.

“Since joining Grant Thornton I have had the most amazing opportunities. I’ve worked on numerous Public Sector Audits, been seconded to the Digital Audit Team where I learnt how to code to create apps and gained my AAT qualification.  I am now just one exam away from my ACA Chartered Accountancy qualification.

“Throughout my Apprenticeship journey I feel like I have grown in confidence both technically and as a person and I haven’t looked back.  I would highly recommend the school leaver apprenticeship route to anyone.”

Talent and skills investment is vital to secure the loyalty of your people and attract in-demand talent. Apprenticeships deliver the skills both organisations and employees need to achieve their goals.  

Alongside Grant Thornton’s success in recruiting hundreds of apprentices every year, the firm’s specialists have also supported over 2,000 organisations in optimising their apprenticeship levy. Allowing organisations to get the vital skills they most need, all through high-quality development programmes. You can get help to realise opportunities through several development programmes in partnership with leading training providers. . 

*The Grant Thornton Business Outlook Tracker is a bi-monthly survey of mid-market businesses. Censuswide (on behalf of Grant Thornton UK LLP) surveyed 603 senior decision makers in UK mid-market businesses between 2 – 12 December 2022. The UK mid-market is defined as companies with an annual turnover between £50 million - £500 million.

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