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Helen Yeulet Feb 8, 2024 3:09:39 PM 3 min read

Why Apprenticeships Are No Laughing Matter



Why BBC One's prime time TV show, The Apprentice, does not help the reputation of apprenticeships in the United Kingdom at a time when they could not be more important - writes BESA Director of Competence and Compliance Helen Yeulet.


It is unfortunate timing that the latest series (the 18th) of BBC One’s ‘The Apprentice’ should kick-off just before National Apprenticeship Week (#NAW2024).

I couldn’t think of anything that does a worse job of promoting apprenticeships.

The cut-throat nature of the format and the demands of reality TV mean it is little more than a comedy programme designed to show the ‘apprentices’ in the worst possible light. Who would want to put themselves through this experience?

A real apprenticeship is a very different thing, and wouldn’t it be better if the BBC could make something more inspirational? Apprenticeships are not about testing people to the point of humiliation and belittling them when they make a mistake. In fact, it is absolutely the opposite.

This year’s National Apprenticeship Week, the 17th of its kind, highlights the availability of apprenticeships to suit people of all ages and at any stage in their career through its ‘Skills for Life’ theme. It promotes career opportunities, it supports aspiration, and encourages people to aim higher.

Employers can claim up to 95% of the costs of taking on apprentices who can immediately start to deliver value to any business because they are part of the workforce from Day One. It is a chance for employer and employee to get the measure of each other and for a new entrant to get the feel for an industry or trade before committing themselves.

Making mistakes is all part of learning and should not lead to someone pointing a finger at you and yelling: “You’re fired!”

You’re Hired

The building engineering industry is sleepwalking into a major problem with an ageing workforce and skills shortage and that is why employers must act now before these issues become a crisis in the industry.

Taking on apprentices and upskilling your existing workforce is how our industry will counter this worrying future and that is why we relaunched our ‘Future Skills Pledge to coincide with NAW 2024.pledge 8.2.24 logo

By taking the pledge, employers can help us and our college partners identify and prepare the training resources needed to meet demand. We will also contact the employer to get a better understanding of their requirements and provide advice about possible training providers, funding, and access to suitable candidates.

More than 60 employers took the pledge last year and we want to beat that figure in 2024. There were over 15,500 apprentices in the building engineering services sector in 2023, a figure that is 20% less than the previous year so the onus is on us all to change the direction of that trend.

By taking our future skills pledge we want to highlight the employers in the industry that are playing their part in addressing these issues. But we don’t want this to be just a week-long campaign, we want to keep into touch with our pledgers and hear about the difference their apprentices have made to their businesses. By continually highlighting and promoting the benefits of apprenticeships and upskilling existing workers, we hope that more and more businesses will follow suit in the future.

The government knows how vital apprenticeships are to the future of the country and that is why they are making them as accessible and attractive as possible to both employers and young people.

The cost-of-living crisis has made it even more likely that a young person looking for their next step after school will not go to university. The chance to ‘earn as you learn’ has never looked more appealing and organisations like the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) have worked hard to make apprenticeships more flexible to suit the needs of employers and aspirational employees – at different stages of their careers.

Everyone Wins

Lord Sugar narrows his list of potential apprentices down to one ‘lucky’ person eventually after weeks of chaos, arguing and a distinct lack of skill or application on display. There is only one winner at the end of each series however we hope that we are showing that in fact everyone can be a winner in our industry when it comes to apprentices.

Better productivity, fresh ideas, innovation, energy, business growth, government support and brand reputation – everyone wins on our show. Take our ‘Future Skills Pledge’ this National Apprenticeship Week and play your part in helping shape and secure the future of our industry.

For more information about apprenticeships and BESA’s Future Skills pledge go to: National Apprenticeship Week | Apprenticeships | BESA (