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Apprentices in physics-powered businesses can plug UK skills gap – IOP

7 February 2024

Employers are working to overcome barriers to hiring more apprentices in bid to bridge local skills gaps.

A youthful, smiling female and male who are British Airways Engineering apprentices

Employers in physics-powered businesses say apprentices have an important part to play in tackling skills gaps and are working to overcome the barriers to hiring more, according to the latest report published by the Institute of Physics (IOP).

The report, Solving Skills One Year On: Partnerships powering apprenticeships, showcases how employers’ efforts are paying dividends for their businesses, the wider economy and the apprentices involved.

From the green energy and nuclear industries to electrical engineering, construction and digital, physics-powered businesses report that a shortage of key technical skills is holding back their growth.

More than half (53%) of physics-demanding jobs do not actually require a degree-level qualification, opening the door for apprenticeships to plug the skills gap delivering STEM careers with future longevity for many young people.

But an initial IOP-commissioned study published in 2023 found apprentices were concerned about the cost of living while training, and the cost of travel to workplaces and training providers, and that employers were struggling with the perceived administrative burdens involved.

Since then, over the past year, the IOP has hosted a series of five Solving Skills Summits with employers, providers, devolved and regional government and education leaders to discuss ways to tackle the barriers, and find solutions to close the physics skills gap and encourage uptake of apprenticeships.

The resulting report features a range of case studies across the UK and Ireland, showing how employers can play a vital role in increasing uptake of physics-related apprenticeships, through collaboration with local government and other employers in their regions.

With inspiring stories from employers including British Airways, CMB Engineering, Combilift, the South Yorkshire and North of Tyne Combined Authorities and MEGA (Manufacturing & Engineering Growth & Advancement), the report shows how physics-related apprenticeships have successfully plugged skills gaps and powered business growth across the UK and Ireland.

Tom Grinyer, IOP Group Chief Executive Officer, said: “It is great to see the success of the organisations who have overcome significant barriers to unlock more physics-related apprenticeships, and I hope that showcasing these examples of good practice will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

“Physics skills are central to the new industrial landscape, offering routes to productive employment and rewarding careers for people in every part of the UK.

“But our 2021 Workforce Skills research showed 9,000 physics-related jobs were struggling to be filled, and two-thirds of physics-related businesses were forced to suspend or delay R&D and innovation between 2016 and 2021 due to skills shortages.

“More needs to be done to address these key challenges, and we call on governments, employers and education training providers to act now to unlock the opportunities that apprenticeships can bring to deliver the vital skills needed for economic growth across the UK and Ireland.”

The first report, published in February 2023, surveyed nearly 300 apprentices and interviewed 32 training providers including 39 apprentice employers across the UK and Ireland.

Apprentices were concerned by the associated costs, while employers struggled with the perceived administrative burdens involved in engaging with the apprenticeship system and in hiring a sufficient number of apprentices with the skills they need.

These challenges, combined with stereotypes about who can do physics and the massive shortfall in the numbers of women pursuing apprenticeships, are just some of the key challenges employers and would-be apprentices face.