As we get closer to National Apprenticeship Week, which takes place between 14 and 18 March, non-domestic heating trade association, the Industrial & Commercial Energy Association (ICOM), asks: Can apprenticeships help close the skills gap?

If you ask human resources departments whether they're finding the skilled engineering workers they need, they'll lament about a skills gap that threatens both productivity and growth — not just in their companies but in the wider economy at large.

We know that our sector is facing severe skills shortages which are likely to get worse as our aging work force retires, so it is time that we looked seriously at national apprenticeships as a vehicle to train young people to fill these skills gaps.

Apprenticeships can offer a precise match between the skills employers want and the training workers receive, it's a great model for transferring skills from one generation to the next.

At ICOM we have first-hand experience of just how positive the apprenticeship process is, for both the company and young person. In 2014 we launched the ICOM apprentice of the year and since then have witnessed more and more of our member companies getting involved.

However there is still a problem; young people, teachers and parents still resist apprenticeships in favour of university places. In short we have an image problem.

We all need to work harder to promote an apprenticeship as an alternative to university. An apprenticeship is a real job, one where you earn and learn and one that offers access to a very real career path.

So during apprenticeship week, I am calling not only on my members but the whole engineering sector to promote the very real benefits that an apprenticeship can offer to all those involved.

Ross Anderson is director at ICOM

Picture courtesy of Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images