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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Welcome to the future with the apprenticeship revolution: Maximising use of employer contributions and empowering talent

Claire Eley, Apprenticeship Coordinator at the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub

Woman working in robotics

Claire Eley is an apprenticeship coordinator at the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub, a free service for SME employers in the region, helping them make informed choices around apprenticeships and broader skills development. The hub provides free and impartial advice to Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield businesses, connecting them with the best training provider for their needs. Since launching in December 2023, the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub has advised more than 100 small to medium sized businesses in less than six months.

Claire Eley - South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub
Claire Eley

“In the UK, numerous apprenticeships are available in AI and robotics, blending hands-on experience with academic learning. Options include degree-level programmes in digital technology solutions, AI data specialisation, robotics engineering, and control systems.”

From catering to careers

After studying for an HND at Sheffield Hallam University in Hotel and Catering Management, I left the sector nearly 20 years ago and accidentally fell into the world of adult learning – and I love it! Since then, I have supported organisations, particularly the social care sector, with accredited and bespoke training needs, including apprenticeships. Seeing the impact learning has on people in both their personal and professional lives is extremely fulfilling.

Matchmaking people with opportunities

Since starting at the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub, I have been supporting employers and individuals to understand all aspects of apprenticeships, and matching the two up. We work with local and national training providers, so that the employer and learner can receive the training in the way that suits them best.

Apprenticeship numbers

It’s no secret that apprenticeship starts, especially at Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) are down across the country. There are many reasons for this – some will say the apprenticeship levy is to blame, others will attribute the reduced number to the minimum length of the programme, or will say the need to pass English and maths at Level 2 is prohibitive.

woman working in digitalThere are many talented and influential people within the skills sector working on how to successfully turn the tide on this downturn and we are eagerly awaiting positive changes. Higher apprenticeships including degree apprenticeships have seen an upturn, as employers use their levy funds to upskill existing staff, and as more young people decide that university isn’t for them be that due to cost or a desire to enter the world of work as soon as possible.

Regardless of this, apprenticeships are still a fantastic way for people to earn and learn, and for employers to future-proof their workforce.

Explaining apprenticeship levy transfers

We also support employers to access full funding for the cost of the apprenticeship through the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Levy Matchmaking Service – this is where larger employers gift their levy pot to SMEs, removing the need for them to contribute 5%.

Large employers are those with an annual wage bill of over £3 million who pay a percentage each month which they then have to spend on apprenticeships within their organisation – or they can gift to other employers.  We identify local employer needs with the pledges ‘made’ to South Yorkshire and make the necessary introductions and support with the process.

Supporting digital apprenticeships

Google kindly pledged funding to support 30 apprentices in South Yorkshire for Digital apprenticeships. The standards they will fund range from Level 3 to Level 7 and cover Digital Engineering; ICT Practitioners; ICT for Users; Crafts, Creative, Arts and Design; and Media & Communication. Included in this are Cyber Security and Artificial Intelligence Data Specialist, as we all become more reliant on technology many employers need to embrace new software whilst ensuring systems are safe.

Not all companies have vast IT teams or can afford to outsource the support, so these standards offer them a cost-effective way of gaining in-house skills.

Robot fruit pickerIn the UK, numerous apprenticeships are available in AI and robotics, blending hands-on experience with academic learning. Options include degree-level programmes in digital technology solutions, AI data specialisation, robotics engineering, and control systems. These apprenticeships typically last 18 months to four years, covering software development, data analysis, machine learning, and robotic system maintenance. Other programmes, such as software development, mechatronics maintenance, and data science, also offer valuable skills for careers in these advanced fields.

There is also employer support available through the Made Smarter programme, which is a national movement to drive growth amongst UK makers and advance the UK economy. Backed by world-renowned businesses and the UK government, it will improve the development and adoption of emerging technologies. Making a real, everyday difference to people from the boardroom to the factory floor, it helps manufacturers embrace digital adoption, with a view to increasing productivity as part of gaining a competitive advantage.

The programme is designed to support SMEs to use digital processes across all their methods of manufacture, providing more efficiency and better information to enable them to improve continually and fine-tune their processes. Further details can be found here:

How underrepresented groups can benefit

Ellie Hagen - Glass Technology Services
Ellie Hagen won Technology & Digital Apprentice of the Year at the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Awards 2024.

Data, such as this report from the Department for Education, shows women are still under-represented in areas such as STEM but great progress has been made in recent years. At the recent South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Awards, 75% of the finalists for the Technology & Digital Apprentice of the Year were women, with the winner being Ellie Hagen from Glass Technology Services in Sheffield. I think whilst the gender barrier does still exist, it is consistently being pushed in the right direction.

From August 2023 to February 2024, apprenticeship starts by sex were 99,130 female and 101,419 male. In South Yorkshire, the figures were 2,360 female to 2,500 male.

For all underrepresented groups, there is the Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network (ADCN) which champions apprenticeships and diversity to employers and encourages more people from diverse backgrounds to consider apprenticeships.

Finding your pledge partner

South Yorkshire-based companies can contact us at for advice and guidance on what apprenticeship standards are available, to access a talent pool of individuals (of all ages) who are looking for apprenticeship vacancies and to access the levy pledges. And (of course!) we would welcome conversations with any organisation wishing to donate their unspent levy funds – we will work with them to identify the sectors and standards they wish to donate to and carry out due diligence on all applicants to ensure they meet their requirements.

We are active members of the national Apprenticeship Hub Network, enabling the individual Hubs to come together and share best practice, identify trends, and spot opportunities. Not all areas have an independent Hub and some fall within the remit of local authorities, so an internet search is the best way to find out if you are supported locally. Plans are underway for the Apprenticeship HUB Network group on LinkedIn so updates on areas covered will be available in the coming months.

Coming up next

Moving forward, I am looking forward to further enhancing the services offered by the South Yorkshire Apprenticeship Hub. For example, our vacancies website has been developed to enable individuals to register their interest in future opportunities. This creates a regional talent that we showcase to employers, further demonstrating the impact apprenticeships can have, all of which can be accessed via our website:

The world of apprenticeships never stands still, whether it is new standards being approved; changes to the knowledge, skills and behaviours apprentices need to show, or amendments to the funding bands – who knows what each new day will bring? My focus is to ensure we achieve our goal of supporting 300 new apprentices across South Yorkshire into quality learning experiences with local employers.

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