Apprenticeships are a hugely important part of the economy in Cumbria and are crucial for local and regional businesses long term growth.

With a majority of industries being affected and impacted by the global Coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions it has brought in, there is no better time to shine a light on apprenticeships and speak to a number of high profile organisations about how they are involved with training tomorrows workers.

Apprenticeships are not just for teenage school leavers but as the retirement age increases it is also for those looking for a change of career or a fresh start. The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority's Dales Landscape Partnership apprenticeship scheme, made possible by the National Lottery Fund, is one example of many where its apprentices range in age far beyond teenagers.

Government figures highlight the importance of apprenticeships in Cumbria, with 52,820 taking place between May 2010 and last summer in the latest released stats. Although the figures have dropped from a high of 5,930 during 2015/16 to 4,340 in 2018/19, it still remains pivotal for the long term careers of workers in Cumbria.

Suzanne Caldwell, managing director of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “Getting apprenticeships right is particularly important for Cumbria.

“Our working-age population is declining and, before Covid, many employers were struggling to recruit staff with the right skills.

“Once we recover from the pandemic, we expect this problem to return and it will be exacerbated by the new points-based immigration system, which makes it harder to recruit staff from abroad.

“For many businesses, taking on apprentices and training them to meet the needs of their business is the best way to plug the skills gap.”

She added: “Cumbria is performing relatively well in terms of apprenticeship take-up, which is a feather in the cap of our further education colleges and providers such as Gen2.

“There was a worrying fall in apprenticeship starts after the Government introduced the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017.

“Chambers lobbied vigorously for reform of the system. The Government has implemented some of our suggestions and the numbers have started to go up again. We are keen to encourage businesses to embrace apprenticeships and our Growth Hub advisers can help them look at this.”

In 2019, 10.8 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds in Cumbria participated in an apprenticeship which was double the national average and shows their importance across all industries from farming and agriculture to technical industry and public services such as the police force.

Craig Ivison, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership's (CLEP) head of skills highlights the key role apprenticeships play while the CLEP works with employers to develop apprenticeship routes.

He said: "The apprenticeship programme in Cumbria supports all aspects of Cumbria’s unique economy, with local employers and the responsive skills system working in partnership to deliver high quality apprenticeship opportunities.

“Cumbria has a strong track record in first-rate technical education, and apprenticeships are a key part of the technical education on offer in the County. Apprenticeships secure employment and training opportunities to industry standards for over 6,000 people and provide a progression route for young people that is three times the national rate of progression.

“Apprenticeships are an employer led opportunity, with employers setting standards, creating the demand for apprenticeships and employing the apprentice. This demand has secured over 6,000 employed opportunities for apprentices during 2019/20, enabling apprentices to develop competency in a skilled role, transferable skills and securing long-term earning potential in sectors such as hospitality and catering, construction, education and training, health and social car, and engineering.

“Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has had an impact on the number of apprenticeship starts, they are a key way to help Cumbria’s businesses and economy bounce back.

Apprenticeships in the County are available at all levels from intermediate apprenticeships to degree level with organisations like the University of Cumbria (UoC), Furness College, Carlisle College, Lakes College and Kendal College. Traineeships and the newly introduced T Levels is another option for people.

The UoC offers apprenticeships in nine different course areas and are one of four universities to form the Police Education Consortium with three Police Forces in the South East of England delivering the innovative Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) programme.