Everyone, irrespective of age or background, should get the skills they need

The Government is helping to improve the nation’s skills, support careers and provide a talent pipeline for business, writes Conservative MP Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships & Skills.

The pandemic has shone a light on some of the acute skills gaps that exist across the country. According to recent research by Hays recruitment, four out of five accountancy and finance employers say they have experienced some form of skills shortage within the past year.

Accountancy firms are the bedrock of our financial sector and the industry has long faced the challenges of skill shortages. In this country, businesses and public sector organisations are crying out for more accountants and financial analysts.

Apprenticeships are playing a key role in attracting new talent from all walks of life, helping to make sure employers of all sizes have access to the skills they need to grow. There are a range of apprenticeship opportunities available within the financial sector – everything from accounting technician to senior compliance and risk specialist.

It is great to see employers like BDO and KPMG embracing the benefits of apprenticeships, providing people with the chance to gain a professional qualification and earn a salary – all at the same time.

Another great example in the accountancy sector, is RSM UK, who have continued to invest in their apprenticeship programme giving more school leavers the opportunity to have successful careers in audit, tax and consulting professions. Since 2016, their school leaver intake for their AAT apprenticeship programme has increased by more than 35%.

I know first-hand the power apprenticeships can have. They can transform lives and open doors to careers you didn’t think were possible. This government’s apprenticeships, which have all been designed in partnership with leading employers, are longer and higher quality, ensuring apprentices get the valuable skills they need to progress.

Ensuring more people can access high quality further education and training, and secure a good career, is central to this government’s mission of levelling up opportunity across the country and helping to rebuild and grow our economy after the pandemic. The Prime Minister recently announced the ‘Opportunity Guarantee’, giving every young person the chance of an apprenticeship or an in-work placement.

To help boost the number of apprenticeship opportunities available, as part of the Government’s Plan for Jobs, employers are being offered £2,000 for each new apprentice aged under 25 they hire, and £1,500 for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over, up to the 31st January 2021. This includes taking on an apprentice who has been made redundant.

On top of this, we announced an £111 million boost to triple the number of traineeships available across England – the largest-ever expansion of traineeships – to help even more 16-24 year olds prepare for apprenticeships and work through sector-focused skills development and work experience.

Last week the Prime Minister also announced a new ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ including offering adults without an A Level or equivalent qualification a free, fully-funded course, to provide them with the skills valued by employers. We will also make it easier for adults and young people to study more flexibly – allowing them to space out their studies across their lifetimes, transfer credits between colleges and universities, and enable more part-time study. We will also provide finance for shorter term studies, rather than having to study in one three or four year block. 

Technology is also playing a greater part in all our lives, so we need to ensure that everyone is able to gain the tools they need to navigate the digital world, particularly in the workplace.  That’s why we have committed £8 million to expand digital bootcamps this year in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Liverpool City Region. These will be led by local employers and will be followed by additional camps in Leeds, the South West, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire early next year. We have also expanded The Skills Toolkit – an online platform which now offers over 70 free to access online courses in a wide range of subjects including everyday maths, tools for using email and social media at work.

We want people to learn about all available careers – including exciting opportunities in the accountancy industry – so they can choose a path that is best suited to their skills and talents. We invested a further £32 million to ensure The National Careers Service can provide high quality, personalised advice and guidance to more young people and adults.

I know it has been a challenging time for the entire country, but the wide range of support we have developed is designed to help us to build back better after Coronavirus. We are working to make sure everyone, irrespective of their age or background gets the skills and experience they need to progress, to have rewarding careers and give businesses the talent pipeline they need to prosper, not just for today, but for the future.

About the author

Gillian Keegan is Member of Parliament for Chichester and the Government’s Under Secretary of State for Apprenticeships & Skills.

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

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