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General election ask 2: Equip more people with the technical skills

Technical skills are at the forefront of the new economy, from green energy and nuclear industries to electrical engineering, construction and digital. So apprentices in physics-based businesses, from engineers and technicians in the space sector to sonographers that help save lives every day, have a crucial role to play in tackling the UK skills gap.

Almost 1 million physics-related roles typically don’t require a degree. But this is not widely known by young people considering their post-16 options or those influencing their decisions. This lack of awareness – underpinned by challenges facing apprenticeship training providers and employers in the UK – means not enough young people are successfully engaging with these rewarding and much-needed routes.

Young people also face significant barriers to choosing a rewarding apprenticeship path. They are not sufficiently exposed to local employers to understand the exciting opportunities that are open to them.

Some schools are, in effect, financially incentivised to favour promoting academic routes to keep young people and their associated funding in their schools. Our 2023 Solving Skills report highlights that employers are not sufficiently involved in shaping apprenticeships, especially for SMEs, who often struggle with the administrative overheads.

Plus, over a quarter of apprentices surveyed reported financial concerns relating to their apprenticeship. More than a third of apprentices had to travel more than 20 miles to their training provider while having to grapple with poor transport infrastructure and lack of locally affordable housing.

Employers report serious concerns about the diversity of physics-related apprentices, with women making up only a fifth (21%) of new physics apprentices in England.

This drops to only 4% in Scotland. Addressing this will mean tackling stereotypes and misperceptions about who can do physics.

It will bust the myth that apprenticeships lead to ‘lower status’ jobs – misperceptions held by young people and the key figures that influence their decision making.

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