Call for more science apprenticeships in bid to plug STEM sector skills gap
As the UK’s professional body for chemical sciences, we are calling on businesses to support vocational routes into STEM jobs, following a 31% drop in national industry apprenticeship applications.
Apprenticeships play a key role in ensuring labs have the staff with the skills that they need to fulfil crucial functions.
However, data from the from the Science Industry Partnership (SIP) reveals that the uptake of science apprenticeships has declined since 2016 – an issue which has been exacerbated following the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The figures show that there were 3,150 new science apprentice starts in the academic year of 2019 to 2020, in comparison to 5,200 new starts in 2016-17.
Call to support vocational pathways
During National Apprentice Week 2022 (7th-13th February), we are calling on employers to support vocational pathways into the science industry, in a bid to recruit the next generation of scientists and help close the technical skills gap within the STEM sector.
Katie Dryden-Holt, Royal Society of Chemistry Vocational Skills Programme Manager, says: “We’ve witnessed a significant fall in apprenticeship starts within the science sector in recent years. It would be easy to attribute this decline to the outbreak of COVID-19, but this is a science-wide issue which has going on since before the pandemic.
“In parallel, there is a particular challenge with attracting and retaining people in technical roles in the UK. The only way to fill that gap is to train more people, and apprenticeships are a fantastic way to do that.
“Not only do these programmes benefit the apprentices and the companies at which they work, they add real value to local communities and the wider economy – something that is crucial as the nation rebuilds from the impact of the pandemic.”
Apprenticeship levy transfer
The Royal Society of Chemistry is currently supporting the training of 19-year-old apprentice laboratory technician, Emma Giles, through an apprenticeship levy transfer to Bury St Edmunds e-waste firm, N2S.
Emma is enrolled on the RSC-accredited Advanced Apprenticeship Laboratory Technician programme at West Suffolk College, which allows her to gain a qualification in applied science while enjoying on-the-job training with a company that’s set its sights on turning e-waste into a valuable resource of its own.
Emma said: “Before I joined, I had a few options, but I saw N2S as a great opportunity as I could continue to stay local and could then put more time into my studies. It’s all virtually next door and that’s been very helpful.
“It’s been a great experience so far and I think it’s a brilliant way to get on-the-job training while contributing successfully to the company.”
According to the SIP data, the number of people who applied for the Laboratory Technician Advanced Apprenticeship dropped by 25 per cent in 2019 to 2020, in comparison to the previous academic year. This number recovered by a mere three per cent last year, with a total of 308 applicants for the 2020 to 2021 period.
Emma, who is working to complete her level 3 training, is benefiting from invaluable on-the-job learning at N2S, making an invaluable contribution to company processes by bringing a fresh perspective to the table.
Katie added: “The feedback we get from science businesses and organisations is that apprentices bring real value to their team and to their day-to-day operations.
“Funding the training of a laboratory technician on an accredited programme through transferring some of our apprenticeship levy is a direct way that the RSC is supporting the development of the skilled technical professionals needed by our sector, and I would hugely encourage other companies to consider doing the same.”