08Challenge 6: Making the case for the relevance of apprenticeships in financial and knowledge based services

The leading sectors in providing higher level apprenticeships in the UK tend to be traditional industries, such as motor vehicles, construction and engineering.63 However, the industries that are increasingly driving economic growth in UK cities, and where skills gaps at higher levels are likely to grow, tend to be knowledge intensive business services such as finance, law and consulting – which have not historically offered many apprenticeships.64

There is a growing awareness among business services companies of a need to diversify their intake beyond standard graduate recruitment channels.65 This has led some employers to explore how they can utilise apprenticeships within their workforce. But making the case for the value of apprenticeships in these professions remains a challenge.

Case study 12: PwC apprenticeships: establishing frameworks in professional sectors and working with SMEs to support their uptake

London’s economy is strongly knowledge-based – 23 per cent of all jobs are in private knowledge intensive business services – and it has one of the UK’s most highly skilled workforces, with 48 per cent of all working residents having at least degree level qualifications.66 However, the city also faces a substantial skills challenge, which covers a number of sectors, and particularly intermediate level skills which support knowledge intensive business services such as business, administration, finance and law.67

Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) started looking to apprenticeships in 2010 as a way of addressing the shortages they faced in recruitment. Finding that none of the existing frameworks were appropriate to their needs, they worked with the National Apprenticeship Service and with around 35-40 other companies within the same industry to develop three higher apprenticeship frameworks in assurance, tax and management consultancy.

Using UKCES funding from the Employer Ownership of Skills pilot in 2013, they were then able to deliver 3,000 apprenticeships in professional and business services.

PwC apprenticeships last two years and those which pass their exams are offered jobs. The scheme is highly regarded, and apprenticeship finishers tend to be head-hunted by rival firms. The scheme receives more applicants than there are places, and there are never unfilled vacancies. PwC report that the retention rate for apprentices after qualifying is higher than for graduates, at 86 per cent compared to 68 per cent for graduates.68

However, there are challenges around the high standards which they demand, even at age 16. Good qualifications, as well as customer service experience and involvement in extra-curricular activities, are important at recruitment stage, and because there are no apprenticeship frameworks in professional services at the intermediate and advanced level, progression into PwC apprenticeships tends to come from academic, rather than vocational routes.

Case study 13: London Professional Apprenticeship (LPA) Programme

Building on their development of higher apprenticeship frameworks in professional services, PwC set up the London Professional Apprenticeship Programme in 2013 alongside the Greater London Authority, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) in order to support the creation of 250 professional apprenticeships by small and medium sized businesses, only 5 per cent of which employ apprentices in London.69

The programme is funded by £1.4 million from BIS via the Olympic Legacy Budget, which has supported design, set up and early implementation, while £900,000 from PwC will go towards ongoing costs, such as training and networking events, mentoring, and a graduation ceremony.70 The LPA Programme also runs a network for apprentices in London that provides social as well as professional support.65

The scheme now has around 400 SME partners, 70-80 per cent of which had never offered an apprenticeship before. In September 2015, 84 per cent of all enrolled apprentices were on track to complete their apprenticeship, compared to a national average of 69 per cent.72

The challenges around convincing employers of the benefits of apprenticeships are greater when it comes to non-traditional apprenticeship industries. Overcoming these challenges will depend on establishing clearer progression routes from school into apprenticeships, and using examples such as the PwC apprenticeship scheme to illustrate to other professional service firms how apprenticeships can be an appropriate and valuable employee recruitment approach for them.


  • 63 OFSTED (2015) Apprenticeships: developing skills for future prosperity. London: OFSTED. http://bit.ly/1YtighH
  • 64 Swinney P and Thomas E (2015) A century of cities: Urban economic change since 1911. London: Centre for Cities.
  • 65 Centre for Cities interview
  • 66 Centre for Cities (2016) Cities Outlook 2016. London: Centre for Cities.
  • 67 London Councils (2015) Skills Gaps. http://skillsmatch.intelligentlondon.org.uk/skills_gaps
  • 68 Apprenticeship Careers (2015) Top Apprenticeship Employers. http://bit.ly/25ZzuZu
  • 69 BIS (2013) Press release: £2.3 million to open London’s professional services to more apprentices. http://bit.ly/1Sz8RR1
  • 70 PwC (2013) New PwC programme to open up professional apprenticeships for business in London. http://bit.ly/1oX6gZt
  • 71 Centre for Cities interview
  • 72 PwC (2015) London Professional Apprenticeship students celebrate graduation. http://bit.ly/1VlCXxJ