Apprenticeships will play crucial role in Hertfordshire’s economic recovery post pandemic, says the University of Hertfordshire Vice-Chancellor

8 February 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated the impact of skills gaps on Hertfordshire’s businesses, at time when investing in staff development is seen as low priority, the University of Hertfordshire’s Vice-Chancellor has said. Professor Quintin McKellar’s message comes as England celebrates National Apprenticeships Week.

According to the Hertfordshire Skills Survey 2020, 60% of employers in the county had (at the time the research was carried out) one or more skills gaps in their organisation. Professor McKellar believes that the combination of redundancies, minimal skills migration, and generalized economic uncertainty prompted by the pandemic may mean this percentage has already increased, and could continue to do so significantly in the coming months, with employers missing out on the chance to stabilize, diversify and grow.

Despite this, the survey highlighted that investing in skills has not been regarded as a priority by employers who’ve been in survival mode, focusing on other operational priorities such as cash flow and maintaining sales.

The report also identified the most common skills gaps in the region, which are:

  • digital skills (28% of businesses have this skills gap)
  • job specific, including in construction, manufacturing and personal services (24%)
  • sales and marketing (17%).

Professor Quintin McKellar, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hertfordshire, said: “I am sure this will be a better year for businesses in Hertfordshire. As we look forward to the continued rollout of the vaccine and the future relaxing of restrictions, employers will be looking to plan and make the most of the opportunities ahead. They understand where their skills gaps are, and how important it is to address them, but understandably finding the funding and working out how best to do this presents challenges.

“That’s why apprenticeships can be a great solution. They allow businesses to shape and cultivate the exact skills they need, and there are many courses and modules which directly address the gaps employers say they have. There is also funding available through the apprenticeship levy – and they form a key part of Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s Economic Recovery Plan. They are often overlooked, but they’re a very cost-effective way of upskilling the workforce and recruiting and retaining talent.”

At the end of January, the Department for Education published its Skills for Jobs white paper, which appeared to address some of the frustrations businesses share around skills and training not reflecting the needs of industry. Professor McKellar added:

“We fully support the proposal to put employers at the heart of post 16 skills as outlined in this paper. The University of Hertfordshire already has very strong relationships with employers including TUI and Hertfordshire County Council, and works in partnership with them to develop highly regarded  apprenticeship programmes that address the complex needs of the regional labour market. There are now over 600 learners studying an apprenticeship at Herts across a range of specialties, including digital technology, leadership and management, and engineering.”

Zayn Azam, 20, is a Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprentice at the University of Hertfordshire. Like many organisations, Zayn’s employer, Qubic, asked staff to work from home as the country went into lockdown in March last year. Zayn set-up and ran a dedicated hotline for colleagues to help them adapt to their new way of working, which allowed the business to operate remotely outside of their Hatfield headquarters.

“I left school at 16 and decided to join Qubic as an apprentice. They have been very supportive of my development throughout my career and I am now studying for a degree with them at the University of Hertfordshire. When I decided to become an apprentice, there was still a stigma surrounding them. Many people think that apprentices are only there to make tea or do the paperwork, but we play an instrumental role in the day-to-day running of the business; I’m glad I got the chance to prove that with the staff hotline I set up and remote working support I coordinated during lockdown. I’m really proud of the contribution I’ve made to Qubic.”

Graeme Stevenson, Service Desk Manager at Qubic, said: “The apprenticeship scheme is very important to our organisation. It has allowed us to develop skill sets relevant to our business. It has also improved our productivity and the quality of the service we provide. Zayn’s passion for seeking out and leveraging new technologies, such as Microsoft Teams, has enhanced the way we communicate. This has been especially beneficial during remote working and the current climate we find ourselves in today.”


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