Years of study is no longer the law
Law is often seen as an area of employment which requires years of study at historic academic institutions.
But while the academic route into the field remains open and important, increasingly it is also opening its doors to young people via apprenticeships – a change in attitude which is being mirrored across different areas of the professional services sector.
Leaders in areas such as accountancy, financial planning and architecture are beginning to look at the future of their industry, and are turning to apprenticeships as a means of ensuring the skills base is being prepared now to serve growth that is anticipated over the next decade and beyond.
Professional and business services are a very important strand of the Shropshire economy, supporting large parts of the wider economy and playing a significant role in creating jobs and keeping money within the county.
Research by the Marches Skills Provider Network, a partner in the Ladder for Shropshire campaign, shows that professional and scientific services is the seventh largest employer in Shropshire, with 6.7 per cent of workers involved in the sector.
It is also the fastest-growing sector, with the number of workers up by 36 per cent since 2015 to mean 7,600 people now work in professional services.
FBC Manby Bowdler is among the companies to have launched an apprenticeship programme in the last year, with the law firm – which has offices at Shrewsbury, Telford and Bridgnorth – seeing apprentices as a vital means of keeping the business growing.
"We have big ambitions to grow, and we recognise that we are going to need more and more people to do that – professional services is typically a people-driven business," said sales director Neil Lloyd.
"Latterly we have been hiring people into the business, but taking people across from competitors is time-consuming and very expsnive because you know you are getting people when they are qualified.
"We decided last year we were going to invest in apprenticeships, both legal and non-legal. We recognise that for us it's a six-year journey, but we are going to make the investment now so that in four, five, six years' time we will have the people in the business to support our growth.
"We can forecast the growth we want in the firm, we know what departments we are going to grow, and that in order to support that we need people. We can find the work, but we need people to do it."
FBC Manby Bowdler has a five-year plan but its outlook for apprenticeships is growing. Last year it offered two legal positions, which will ultimately lead to qualifications matching those of students who have entered the profession via university, and two non-legal roles. Next year that will expand to four legal and one non-legal role.
"We have seen some really exceptional people this year and that is why we are taking four legal apprentices on this year," Mr Lloyd added.
"There are two problems at the moment. One is that there is a shortage of professionally skilled people, and the other is that the young talent that comes out of university tends to migrate towards Birmingham, Manchester and London.
"Trying to convince them to come back is quite difficult. Whatever firm you talk to will tell you they can't get enough staff.
"For the larger firms apprenticeships are part of what they do as they recognise that there is a problem.
"It's something I would encourage everybody to look at. We have got some great schools in Shropshire, and they are turning out some really good children with great skills. We are trying to keep them in the county and offer them an alternative to the traditional route into work."
Christopher Greenough, whose company Salop Design and Engineering is a partner of the Ladder for Shropshire, and is a key driver for apprenticeships in the county, said improving skills in professional services would benefit the wider business community.
"The vocational learning route is now vital to all industry sectors in the UK," he said.
"With the roll out of the apprenticeship levy, larger business is being given the spending power to drive training and help close the skills gap.
"Professional services have always had a view that higher education is the way to secure the skills they need, but more and more businesses are now finding the degree apprenticeship route a really interesting offering.
"To have an employee that is working with your company, gaining the qualifications that are needed, and also getting to know the company ethos, other employees and having contact with customers really is a great way to bring on the next generation. The apprentice ends up earning and learning, and this route gives them a degree with no loan fee."