Our voice of business this month is:

Martina Porter, Director of All Spring Media and Board Member of Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership

With the recent announcement that employment vacancies are now greater than the claimant count, it raises important questions for employers and those of organisations like ours, involved in skilling the workforce. Where do we find the people to fill these vacancies? Our business is a specialist training provider, working in the creative sector, providing entry and higher-level apprentices to employers such as the BBC, Channel 4, Amazon, Global Radio and the Royal Opera House and small businesses such as Alfie Green Media, Salon Pictures and Old Hall Films. Over the last 12 months our business has doubled and the growth is set to continue throughout this year. So, why the growth in apprenticeships?

Anecdotally, employers are telling me of rapid promotions, low retention levels and school-leavers not equipped with the skills they are looking for. Apprenticeships offer a structured and supportive way to address these challenges, while allowing the businesses to train in the specific skills they need. Historically, apprenticeships have suffered from a perception problem, the non-academic route, the way into trade professions and only for young people. With apprenticeships now being offered up to Masters equivalent levels, the old perceptions on apprenticeships need to change. Many more employers are enquiring about the higher-level apprenticeships we offer, either to skill-up existing staff or offer longer term employment in a sector where short-term and freelance contracts are the norm. If we are to tackle the growing number of vacancies, we need to see apprenticeships as a key part of our toolbox.

Last year, the Chancellor announced an incentive for employers hiring new staff onto apprenticeship schemes. This was a huge draw for employers and will have certainly impacted on the number of apprenticeship starts in our sector. But that is not enough to establish apprenticeships, particularly in sectors like creative, where a degree was seen as the key entry qualification for many years. Until apprenticeships are on an equal footing with degrees in terms of recognition and funding, we will always be on the poor relation. This means acknowledging the impact of apprenticeships, engaging better with careers advisers, educating the school going population and their parents and celebrating and highlighting the successes of apprenticeships.

As we move more and more to an economy that relies heavily on skills, and often transferrable skills, as employers, parents and policy makers, we cannot ignore the importance of apprenticeships in creating that workforce. I am proud of the work we do with apprenticeships and the amazing, diverse talent we help along the way. Maybe now is the time to readjust the spotlight and let apprenticeships take centre stage.