Skills gap solutions: apprenticeships, traineeships and returnships

Last updated: October 7th, 2022

With industry experts predicting that the post-pandemic jobseekers’ market is likely to continue for another twelve to twenty-four months, recruitment and retention remains a key priority for employers in the medium term.

Here we take a look at the benefits of some alternative routes to employment and why a degree should no longer be a prerequisite for your talent search.

Solution #1: develop an apprenticeship programme

While apprenticeships did wane in popularity as third-level education became more accessible, they are back in the spotlight as education training boards are engaging with employers on the development of new apprenticeship programmes. Apprenticeships are now available in diverse areas like cybersecurity, network engineering, sales and financial services.

There are around seventy active apprenticeship programmes now in operation across a wide range of sectors. Larger corporate employers have also recognised that an apprenticeship programme provides them with access to a wider pool of talent. A screening process can be used to identify candidates with no third-level qualifications who have the skills and capabilities to carry out a role with the help of a relevant training programme.

Solution #2: develop a returnship programme

Another recruitment strategy that has proven effective for organisation is to develop a programme to help attract returnees. The Construction Industry Federation for example has developed a twelve-week programme targeting women who have left the workforce for a period. Returnship programmes aim to provide women with the confidence and capabilities to return to working in industry. Organisations in the financial services, technology and telecommunications sectors have all developed bespoke return to work programmes to support women who are interested in returning to work. These programmes typically consist of a period of training followed by an on-the-job placement underpinned by flexible working options.

Solution #3: develop a traineeship

Another recruitment tactic currently being exploited by large corporate employers is the rollout of paid training programmes. These are proving popular with employers in the digital economy.  Microsoft, for example has developed a Pathways for Life learning programme which targets candidates at every stage of their career. Whether the candidate is a school leaver or a PhD candidate, Microsoft promises to find a pathway for each candidate to develop their skills to progress their career in the digital economy.

It’s not always about the degree

So, to ensure you’re not limiting your talent search options, make sure you first establish whether it’s necessary for job candidates to have a degree at all. Clearly, in certain circumstances a degree will be necessary, but in many cases, a degree provides no guarantee that the candidate has the capacity to do a job. By limiting your search to candidates with degrees, you might only be scratching the surface of the talent pool available to you.


Very often, applicants who have taken the road less travelled can exploit their experience and skills in a more practical way than highly-educated graduates.

An apprenticeship can also be an attractive proposition to ambitious, young candidates. It provides on-the-job training, the chance to earn while you learn along with support to complete any study components.

Likewise, if you or your candidates are worried about their skills being out-of-date, why not provide opportunities to upskill? Could you tweak your training and development programmes to attract women who have left the workforce? Setting up a returnship scheme could unlock access to a lot of talented candidates who may have left the workforce for various reasons.

By focusing too much on an applicant’s education, you could lose out on candidates with lots of potential, willingness to learn and transferrable skills. A more open-minded approach to recruitment will almost certainly increase your options in what looks set to be a jobseekers’ market for the foreseeable future.

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