It’s a common view that the engineering sector is short of skilled people, failing to attract and retain all those who could achieve a successful career in the profession. But reforms to apprenticeship provision are now bearing fruit across the UK, helping address the skills shortfall. Apprentice vacancies are now readily advertised in ‘early careers’ sections on employers’ websites, and more training providers are developing courses and employer partnerships. Windows of opportunity are opening more frequently to individuals from all backgrounds.Trailblazer programmesWe have now reached the point where an apprenticeship is widely accepted as a real and flourishing alternative training/study route into the profession. For example, across the five ICE-accredited Trailblazer programmes in England, we had just over 1,000 starts in 2018/19 compared to the 289 in the previous year. 600 were for civil engineering degree-level programmes. We predict increased numbers in other UK regions too.It’s unsurprising that apprenticeships are attracting so many people. The various ‘earn while you learn’ apprenticeship models offered across the UK essentially all involve 80% workplace and 20% off-the-job training, the latter usually provided by a college or a university. This mix provides the apprentice with opportunities to apply learning, work on live projects and to share problems and experiences with peers and more experienced colleagues.Investing in apprenticesThe arrangement suits the employer too, providing a productive and effective way to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled, diverse and qualified workforce. By investing in apprentices’ training and development, employers report that 90% stay on after completing their apprenticeship. Helping to provide the best opportunities for post-apprenticeship professional qualification, ICE is working with employers and providers in ever closer partnerships. The institution has a dedicated Apprenticeship Manager to oversee engagement and communication with all apprenticeship stakeholders across the UK regions.Creating trust, quality and consistencyIn England, ICE is also a registered End Point Assessment (EPA) Organisation for two degree and three diploma-level apprenticeships, leading to professional qualification at IEng or EngTech MICE respectively. Trailblazer Apprenticeships require an EPA, which tests apprentices’ knowledge, skills and behaviour, to ensure quality, consistency and competency.One of ICE’s core purposes is to assure society that infrastructure professionals can be trusted throughout their career and we are proud that this is equally true for those entering via apprenticeship routes. You will soon hear more about the benefits of apprenticeships as each UK region holds its own version of National Apprenticeship Week in February (March for Scotland). It is an opportunity to raise awareness and promote apprenticeships to both individuals and businesses. But it is also an opportunity to celebrate those who are working towards or have achieved success. ICE will be sharing inspirational stories from some of our star apprentices. I urge you all to take time to discover more about our apprentices and how they are transforming our profession.