How Apprenticeships are Evolving to Re-Shape Our Skills Base

An Autumn Update from Leigh Hughes Chair, CCR Regional Skills Partnership

2020 has been a year like no other, challenging the Welsh economy to continue its commitment to reskill and upskill the workforce across many sectors. In this second of a three-part Autumn Update, the Chair of the Regional Skills Partnership, Leigh Hughes, shares with us his own perspective on how the ‘COVID-economy’ of the last two quarters has impacted on one of the keystones of future skilling in South East Wales – the Apprenticeship programmes.

“It would be easy to think that the pandemic has decimated Apprenticeship provision and uptake – but the reality is far from that” says Leigh. “When COVID hit, we made sure that each sector did an impact assessment; and indeed some predictions forecast anything up to a 90% drop in Apprenticeship uptake. The good news is that the drop has not been that severe – and in some places, such as Cardiff and The Vale College, numbers have remained on target or even increased.”

“Making sure that apprentices on the current programmes complete their certification.”

Beyond the new entrants, Leigh is also seeing a strong commitment from employers to those people already undertaking their apprenticeships.

“There’s a real focus on making sure that apprentices on the current programmes complete their certification. That includes an extension of some programmes to assess competencies; and on a more macro level a really positive intervention and investment from Welsh Government, through the £40m School, Skills & Job programme. So yes, there has been an overall drop in the Apprenticeship uptake, but nowhere near the doom-laden figures everyone feared earlier this year.”

“A full suite of Apprenticeships that genuinely rival degree pathways.”

Leigh is even more upbeat when discussing the three Shared Apprenticeship models in the Construction, Advanced Manufacturing Materials and Creative Sectors, each of which are developing well.

“The Aspire A&M programme run by Blaenau Gwent is already growing and evolving – expanding from an A&M Approved Apprenticeship and now beginning to work with the Compound Semiconductor Cluster.

“The speed at which this has developed is very impressive – SPTS, IQE and Catapult working closely with the Regional Skills Partnership Board in a real team effort. We’re hoping to get this live by September 2021, as part of a bigger vision to evolve this into a Higher Apprenticeship and then a Graduate Apprenticeship – eventually creating a full suite of Apprenticeships that genuinely rival degree pathways. In effect, we’re building an ecosystem that can supply the talent that a world-class Semiconductor cluster needs, feeding the local supply chain as well as serving a valuable global market.”

“Whether it’s the Semiconductor or Creative Sector, we’re building an ecosystem that supplies the talent, feeds the local supply chain – and serves a global market.”

Leigh also sees a huge opportunity to transfer skills, grow new expertise and generate fresh opportunities in the Welsh Creative Sector.

“We know that Disney, Netflix and Amazon have pre-booked the Elstree and Pinewood studios in England for the next 8-10 years. There’s very little UK studio space left – so this is a massive opportunity for the Welsh creative sector to grow exponentially, through the world-class facilities we have available in Cardiff Bay and through Screen Alliance Wales.

“We already have the ecosystem in place – the HE/FE courses, the craftsmen, the ‘everything’. We just need to raise our profile and the wider awareness of this incredible opportunity; and we’re about to do that through a campaign that showcases the wide variety of training and development opportunities in the creative sector, as well as showing some of the many successful success stories already delivered by the Creative Industries here in Wales.”

In the third part of our 3 part autumn update on the work of the Regional Skills Partnership, Leigh will detail the considerable collaboration and innovation being shown by business, education, government and training providers in South East Wales this year.


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