Vocational qualifications and apprenticeships are gaining popularity with smaller employers as a means of recruiting, training and retaining skilled employees and boosting business performance.
A survey of 1,000 SMEs by a group of further education organisations found college leavers were better prepared for the workplace, with a better attitude and higher motivation than school leavers the same age. This counters the popular perception that academic qualifications are more highly valued than further education qualifications. An overwhelming 86% of companies agreed that having staff with vocational qualifications led to better business performance. This positive reaction to vocational rather than academic qualifications meant that far more were taking on apprenticeships and providing vocational training for their employees. Over three quarters (77%) of the respondents agreed vocational training lead to improved staff retention. Apprenticeships are flourishing in SMEs. Data from UKCES shows that 24% of young growing businesses offer apprenticeships compared with 13% of UK businesses overall. UK media agency MediaCom has 10 apprentices in marketing and communications. The impetus to set up apprenticeships was to encourage people from diverse backgrounds to enter the industry and equally to encourage ‘diversity of thought’. “By recruiting a diverse range of young people, the company is able to get an insight and understanding of the audiences they are trying to reach. This would give their teams a greater understanding of the needs of their clients and the expertise and knowledge to come up with the brightest and most innovative media plan,” says Nancy Lengthorn, head of recruitment and talent sourcing at MediaCom. The candidates are working at the same level as previous graduate intake, delivering the same quantity and quality of work. “The industry needs bright, young inquisitive young apprentices - people who understand the needs of the audiences our clients are trying to reach. Such talent, often overlooked will give us the edge in our very competitive industry,” said Lengthorn.