22/03/2016 09:57 GMT | Updated 23/03/2017 05:12 GMT

STEM: The Building Blocks of a 21st Century Apprentice

The piercing gazes and fierce cross examinations of Claude, Karen and Lord Sugar are for many, what springs to mind when you talk about apprentices, but with the government committed to 3 million apprenticeship starts over the next five years, there is far more relevance to students and captains of business than first meets the eye.

Until relatively recently, there were three options open to you when leaving school: you could go to university and study; you could try the entrepreneur route; or you could roll your sleeves up and take a role as an apprentice doing something more labour intensive - luckily, lots has changed and there are now far more options open to our workforce of tomorrow.

According to UCAS analysis of the statistics, application rates among UK 18-year-olds alone are at record levels, but as strongly as universities are performing, so too are apprenticeships. Throughout the National Apprenticeship Week last year a record-breaking 23,000 apprenticeship vacancies were pledged and the ambition for the 2016 rerun this week is to exceed this achievement.

The success of the Tech Partnership apprentice programme is another indication that apprenticeships aren't just an 'en vogue' trend amongst teenagers, but valued as a real and prized channel for nurturing talented individuals into the workplace through non-university paths. Last year alone saw new businesses (from small to blue-chip) join the Tech Partnership programme to support high quality apprenticeships and also a new degree apprenticeship option.

There is no doubt that higher education options are becoming more inclusive, which is good; however there still remains a shortage of STEM subject knowledge among school leavers, graduates and apprentices, which continues to pose challenges for businesses and their continued growth. Whilst at the same time, young people find themselves without the skills and knowledge they need to progress in their careers.

By 2030 millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce and the education and training they receive will be crucial to the UK's continued economic success. As the composition of the workforce evolves, so will its professional DNA, with STEM subjects proving an increasingly important area of development.

It's important that as young people grow up and go through their various stages of schooling, that they are aware of the full range of opportunities open to them, both in terms of career routes and the actual types of careers.

To make a real difference to our workforce of the future a strong relationship between education and business is essential. Digital businesses need to collaborate with teachers so they understand the evolving needs of the modern business world.

Teachers play a crucial role by inspiring and motivating pupils through well informed and inspiring teaching which motivates young people to study STEM subjects or pursue apprenticeship routes - safe in the knowledge of where these subjects and paths can take them.

As a country, we are finally acknowledging the hugely beneficial value of apprentice schemes, but STEM teaching will be equally critical to equipping young people to take full advantage of the opportunities ahead of them. To school leavers; apprenticeships and STEM subjects both offer invaluable avenues into careers; and for businesses, a way to remain inclusive, contemporary and competitive.

With initiatives like The National Apprentice Week this week, and continued support from UK businesses, the paths available to the 'Class of 2016' (and well beyond) looks very bright indeed, and, so too the future of our wider digital economy.