Specialising in a single career is starting to seem as archaic as a job for life. People are not only living and working for longer, but many jobs are being replaced or considerably altered in the wake of technology. It’s got some leaders rethinking the way people enter and move around the job market.

Gary Kildare, Chief HRD for Europe at IBM, is one such person. He says: “Looking at future work patterns, it’s likely that people will be employed for 50 years or more, with a life expectancy of 100 or over. There is no way that conventional thinking around careers can continue.” 

One solution he floats is a rebranding and reinvention of apprenticeships. Businesses are already using these schemes to encourage older people and those who have taken time out of work back into employment, but Gary imagines a scenario in which those already in employment − and working at any level of the business − take an apprenticeship as a means to infiltrate a new sector or job.

“There is not enough dialogue about how to experiment and give people the opportunity to try new roles. Perhaps the apprenticeship brand has too many associations attached to it and needs a reshape,” says Gary.

“It could be that within a 50 year career, you become an apprentice several times and in many different fields. Certainly, the idea that you tick off education or a single apprenticeship at the start of your 'working career' and are then set for life is now a view of the past.”

Clearing the Blockers

The introduction of the UK’s Apprenticeship Levy means businesses must take an open, accepting and creative approach to these schemes as soon as possible, yet there is already a great deal of cultural resistance in many organisations.  

A common blocker is the miss-held belief that apprentices are unable to deliver a return on the resources invested in them during on-boarding but, as Gary highlights, the modern world of work requires skills development at many levels. Increased investment is just something companies will have to swallow. 

“Businesses are likely to have to invest in training more than they have ever done, and probably not get the immediate return they have in the past – yet in this increasingly agile world, we need to give space for people to test what they may be capable of in new areas,” he says.

Adelaide Forbes, Associate Director of People at Mace Group, agrees that businesses must accept the modern workforce requires greater resource and suggests some of that be put into training line managers on the benefits of bringing in new, fresh talent.

“Apprenticeships are a huge untapped market in the workforce. Initially, they do require additional support to get them set up in the business, understanding their role and how the team works. Yet, taking the time to nurture new talent is worth it, as there are just too many success stories to ignore their potential.  

“While line managers may prefer to appoint people with proven skills − such as those with degrees – they need to be encouraged to make the effort, as apprentices come with transferable skills and behaviours that can take time to flourish.” 

Phillippa Crookes, Relationship Manager at Criticaleye, agrees that leaders need to change the narrative around apprenticeship schemes so that they are embraced as an opportunity. She comments: “We need to encourage people to update their view of apprenticeships. They’re no longer just about manual roles or the young, they are about building diversity of thought and experience.”

Taming the Transient 

Another point of resistance is the bittersweet acknowledgement that having successfully trained your staff they are then ready to take on a role elsewhere, perhaps even one at a rival company. 

Diana Breeze, Group HR at Land Securities believes leaders should take a long term strategic view on this. “We’re about to lose one of our apprentices because he’s going to university, but that’s not really a loss to us as he’ll remain an ambassador of our business. Who knows, he might come back to us. Either way it demonstrates that the programme has injected different people into the profession, so that’s a positive for us,” she says. 

In fact, the increasing fluidity of the workforce means it’s a given that some of your best talent will slip away. The emphasis should be on how you stay in-touch and perhaps win them back. 

“You can capitalise on social media and the networks people create. We do a lot with community employment programmes, local schools and work experiences, so we have quite a strong network of people who in some way have been attached to the organisation,” says Diana

She goes on to explain that Mace uses social media to stay connected with its network, inviting them to a drinks reception and an update on the business every year or so.

Phillippa agrees that it’s time to rethink the flow of talent. “Leaders should start to see employees not as company property but as people who may dip in and out of their employment as part of the liquid workforce,” she says.

“The instinctive reaction of leaders is to oppose rival companies poaching their talent, but a more progressive stance would be to welcome the experience those companies offer. The future may even require businesses to extend the partnerships they have with educational institutions to form alliances with rival companies in order to upskill staff.” 

As Gary sums up: “We’re rethinking the world of work, so why would we not rethink the way new talent enters the organisation? I like the idea that life is an apprenticeship and apprenticeships are for life.”

By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Corporate Editor, Criticaleye

These thoughts were shared during Criticaleye’s recent Diversity in Business Discussion Group on Apprenticeships 

Interested in learning more about apprenticeships? Don’t miss our recent interviews with a range of business leaders well-versed on the topic.