By Chris Smith, CEO at recruitment specialist MyJobMatcher.com and founder of Opinio Group

Apprentices then: low-paid factory fodder only good for making cups of tea - right? Wrong.

Apprenticeships are vitally important in two ways. Firstly they help growing businesses show that they are serious about supporting the workforce of the future and secondly, from an employee’s point of view, they can offer a more practical way into industries that are sometimes ‘sealed off’ from younger people.

These times they are a-changing

Say the word ‘apprentice’ and many people will envisage the young-lad-in-overalls-being-mentored-by-an-aging-grey-haired-gentleman-into-a-life-in-heavy-industry stereotype. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the country’s decline in manufacturing, apprentices and apprenticeships are as important now as they were 25 years ago across every sector of British industry.

Lack of investment during the downturn has meant that apprentices are ideally placed to help fill desperate skills gaps in certain industries. They can also make significant inroads into the problems of NEETs (a young person who is "Not in Education, Employment, or Training) and offer an opportunity for those who either don’t have the grades or the desire to enter further or higher education. Of course, they also offer a skill, and years of valuable of experience.

The Numbers

Let’s look at some figures to further this argument: research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) reveals that apprenticeships contributed £34 billion to the UK economy in 2014.

This figure includes gains to the economy from higher wages, business profits and taxes of £31 billion per year, an estimated reduction in unemployment benefit payments of £370 million per year, and benefits to organisations while training apprentices of £1.9 billion per year (in 2015 prices).

The ratio of benefits to costs of apprenticeships is £21 for the national economy for each £1 of public money spent.

The number of people starting an apprenticeship each year has grown in recent years from around 100,000 in 1950 to more than 450,000 people in 2013-14, and the government is on course to deliver in excess of 2 million apprenticeships in the lifetime of this parliament. If this upward trend in recruitment continues, the national economy stands to gain £50 billion by 2025 and £101 billion by 2050.

On the up

The government is right to push the apprenticeships agenda and it should be offering significant tax breaks for those companies which take them on. Apprenticeships are an excellent, credible alternative to further post 16 academic qualifications. And it is especially important that those over the age of 24 who have yet to find a rung on the job ladder are supported through the apprenticeship scheme.

Perhaps, if we are looking at creating opportunities for business to become more involved in state education, 14 – 18 year olds would benefit from vocational training to augment more traditional academic learning.

In short, apprenticeships help all of us. The more people that are in work, the less the benefits bill, and the more in the taxpayers’ pot to spend on the areas. You could say that apprentices are part of the virtuous circle of enterprise.