Engineering Apprenticeship Schemes: Why invest to get them right and what is the cost of getting them wrong?

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Good news | 0 comments

If your engineering or manufacturing business is challenged with an ageing workforce demographic and a lack of available skills in the labour market, then the most obvious option would be to grow your own talent. Via Apprenticeships.

This means that your Apprenticeship Scheme is of significant strategic importance.

Ultimately, this also means that it will need to ‘wash its’ face’ by delivering and retaining enough skilled talent to mitigate the impact of retiring workers or bring in new skills to bridge the gaps that existed before.

Therefore, there is something riding on its’ ultimate success, and it is important to ‘get it right’.

An organisational SWOT analysis will clearly identify the threats of having an ageing workforce and of vital knowledge and skills leaving the business if this cannot be reversed.

But, you may be thinking, our College will train our Apprentices, so isn’t it their job to get it right for us?

Well, no.

Engineering firms that say their Apprenticeship Scheme is delivering the required strategic results tell us that it starts with them being accountable for its’ success.

An Apprentice is a learner, not an employee. 80% of their time is spent in the workplace, where they will be required to learn the skills, attitudes and behaviours that will enable them to become a qualified engineer.

20% of their time is spent with a College or Training Provider, who will do their best to ensure that individual is ready for the workplace and will deliver the qualifications to formally recognise the achievements of the learner.

It is therefore a team effort, but one which is heavily weighted towards you, the employer.


Because developing talent via Apprenticeships is an investment – your investment – and your people are your assets.

However, outside of the obvious strategic impact to your business of ‘getting it wrong’, can we shed more light on the cost of a failing Apprenticeship Scheme?

Firstly, let’s look at the macro environment. An annual shortfall of over 186,000 engineers every year in the UK represents an existential threat to the future of UK engineering and manufacturing.

Basically, there aren’t currently enough engineers to fill demand and as the years go by, this is getting worse and worse. It is not a new trend, it stems back decades.

So the obvious industry response: “we need Apprentices, let’s get some”.

According to recent reports by both the BBC and the Sunday Times, Government figures show that almost half of all Apprentices (47 per cent) are now dropping out of their course, and 70 per cent of those report problems with the quality of their training – equivalent to 115,000 apprentices every year.

Specifically, many Apprentices said a poor experience ‘in company’ is the main factor for them leaving their Apprenticeship, with employers cited as treating Apprentices as workers rather than learners.

Whilst these figures cover all industry sectors in addition to engineering and manufacturing, speaking with many UK engineering Apprenticeship Training Providers tells us that getting an Apprentice through end point assessment is their number one headache right now, so acknowledging such figures makes sense.

Independent research by Next Gen Makers, covering hundreds of manufacturers of various sizes and a variety of industries, identified the sunk cost to the business of a ‘non completing’ Apprentice in between the first and final year to be between £80,000 and £200,000 when time to recruit, onboard, mentor and train have been factored in. Some companies have told us it is higher than this.

This is clearly a huge cost for individual companies and wider UK industry to bear.

High failure rates also further widens the skills shortage and further jeopardises the long-term future of UK Engineering.

As we start to acknowledge the brutal cost of getting engineering Apprenticeship Schemes wrong, our minds will naturally turn to ‘what steps can we take to ensure we get them right’.

Over the past two years, Next Gen Makers have been working with in excess of one hundred engineering and manufacturing firms as part of the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme.

This has grown into a thriving community of like-minded engineering and manufacturing firms that are benchmarking and best practice sharing to improve their Apprenticeship Schemes.

Ultimately, all firms are working towards achieving a best-in-class standard, with robust Apprenticeship Schemes that deliver the best possible Apprentice experience.

The Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme is giving such companies the tools, knowledge, and processes to ensure that their Apprenticeship Scheme delivers on their core business goal – ensuring the company is at the forefront of attracting and retaining the best young talent and future proofing their workforce.

This is achieved by two key elements of the Programme: (1) Benchmarking – so companies can understand ‘where they are at’ vs industry best practice and measure improvement and (2) By sharing successful approaches (best practice) within the community that are tailored around four key pillars; Strategy & Planning, Culture, Attracting talent and Mentoring & Developing Apprentice talent.

Continuous improvement is not a new concept within manufacturing and engineering but applying it to an Apprenticeship Scheme as part of benchmarking and best practice sharing is.

So, you may ask, what type of company is the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme for?

Quite simply, any engineering or manufacturing firm that wants to start, restart, or scale an Apprenticeship Scheme and wants to ensure that they follow a best practice approach to doing so which increases the chances of them ‘getting it right’.

Feedback regarding how the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme has benefited companies that have embraced it is resoundingly positive.

Mark Capell, General Manager of Rugby based LISI Aerospace comments: “We’ve been working with Apprentices for many years but in the early days it was quite ad hoc and hit and miss in the results. The benefit of bechmarking is that we can share best practice, determine whether our ideas are actually good and we can really maximise the potential of our scheme.

“Since being involved in the Best Practice Programme, I can safely say our Apprenticeship Scheme has improved, it has evolved and stabilized, we are far more successful at finding and retaining young talent as a result. Having the Kitemark really demonstrates to local schools, Colleges and students that we have a quality scheme and are a great choice for them”.

Sarah King, Strategic HR Project Lead at SMC Corporation UK adds: “The benchmarking and best practice sharing has really been useful in helping us to understand what we can do better, as well as enjoy what we are doing well. We have definitely improved our Apprenticeship Scheme as a result of being involved in this Programme, because before we thought we were doing the right thing, whereas now we have clear guidance based on what works well for others and can do so for us”.

Sarah continues: “There is so much guidance to ensure our Apprentices are getting exactly what they need, and it has helped to engage the whole of the business too. Achieving the Kitemark was the icing on the cake – nice recognition after we have worked so hard on our Apprenticeship Scheme. It will now help us with recruitment and holds us to task to make sure we keep up the motivation and our standards moving forward”.

Michele Bickerton, People & Development Director at Thomas Dudley Group adds: “benchmarking within this programme has definitely benefited us because it makes you think about where you are at, what you can do more of and what you can do better.

“We can all think we are doing the best we can but when you compare the approach against best practice it does identify gaps, which you can then further improve on. We can tell a story to aspiring engineers about how we benchmark and internally the Make UK Engineering Apprenticeships: Employer Kitemark benefits us too because our Apprentices see we are getting recognition for our efforts to make their experience as good as possible”.

Iqbal Bahia, MD of Leeds based Kirkstall Precision Engineering explains further: “For us benchmarking drew a line in the sand and highlighted where we were at. If you can’t measure something you can’t improve it, so to have that measure enabled us to identify where we can improve it. That made us be more focused internally on what we were doing, and focused on what the College were doing for us too.

“The feedback from the independent survey of our existing Apprentices was absolutely fantastic, it highlighted where we were strong and also gave us focus to improve. We know that there is a recruitment shortage in the market and for us to recruit the best Apprentices we need to show them that we are committed. Having the Kitemark shows potential Apprentices that Kirkstall Precision are an organisation that takes Apprentice training seriously”.

Companies can join the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme at any time to benchmark, learn and improve their Apprenticeship Scheme.

When they feel that they are ready, those that meet the qualifying criteria of having at least three current engineering Apprentices can then opt in to one of four annual accreditation cycles for the Make UK Engineering Apprenticeships: Employer Kitemark Accreditation.

Achieved via the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme, the Kitemark recognises exemplar employers of engineering apprentices – companies that have undergone a 12-month accreditation process that includes satisfaction surveys of existing engineering apprentices and benchmarking of the company’s apprenticeship scheme against industry best practices.

The Kitemark Accreditation is quickly becoming a badge of honour for companies that ‘go the extra mile’ in creating a great apprentice experience for the engineers of the future.

Companies are recognised with either the Gold standard Excellent Employer Kitemark status, or the Silver standard Aspiring for Excellence status – helping them to differentiate and stand out as attractive employers for potential engineering apprentices moving forward.

Those wanting to pursue Kitemark Accreditation can opt into one of four annual cohorts: January, April, July and October. All companies are re-accredited each year to retain the Kitemark or improve their achieved Kitemark level.

Interested in benchmarking your Apprenticeship Scheme or the Kitemark? Learn more about the process and the Engineering Apprenticeships: Best Practice Programme here.