National Apprenticeship Week and Beyond

Erika Marshall     6th March 2018

NATIONAL Apprenticeship Week once again shines a spotlight on the young people who are taking their first tentative steps into industry.  It’s a welcome reminder to businesses of the vast benefits that apprentices can bring, not only to individual corporates, but to UK Plc at large.

We know that year-after-year, the media gets behind Apprenticeship Week and the region’s businesses do their bit to demonstrate the great many benefits that come from employing young people and supporting them into industry.  But still, we see a huge number of businesses rule themselves out of providing apprenticeships – we have so many young people looking for apprenticeships, yet less than one per cent of companies in the North East provide them – and we are one of the better areas of the UK.

“My business is too small for apprentices”; “I don’t have the time to sort an apprenticeship programme out”; “I don’t know how to take an apprentice on”; the list of reasons why not to engage an apprentice goes on…

I have even heard from some FE College principals that they feel embarrassed when parents and young people ask about apprenticeship vacancies, because they simply do not have enough companies offering them – so the answer is ‘no’ before they even discuss the idea.

The reality of apprenticeships is that the appointment of one can be such a simple and straightforward thing – and for us at Nifco, we’ve found that it has added tremendous value to our business.

We have, for so many years now, been bringing the next generation of talent into roles at Nifco – from engineering to finance, we have been able to use apprenticeships to find and develop bright new talent.  And we have become a vocal advocate as a business – we encourage others in our sector and beyond, to get involved.

Perhaps introducing the Apprentice Levy across the board, to even the smallest of SMEs, is part of the solution? Something needs to happen to encourage the involvement of more companies, and if it were up to me, that’s what I would do.

In addition, where I believe we also need to do more, is in developing a pathway for apprentices for the future.  It’s one thing bringing in new talent, but ongoing progression is just as important.  We know, at Nifco, that training and development at every level is important.  While National Apprenticeship Week focuses everyone’s attention on young people and delivering training that will support them with their career progression, this is one piece of the jigsaw.

Training should not begin and end with an apprenticeship and it’s vital that we spread a wider message about training.  Our businesses in the North East are built on people, and – to be the best they can be – people need to be invested in.

And, of course, don’t forget the impact this all has on securing our post-Brexit future. We are going to need to be one of the most productive nations in the world if we are to stand a chance of competing on a global stage. In order to boost productivity in all sectors, including advanced manufacturing and construction, we need more and more skilled crafts and technical people. If you run or own a business that relies on skilled people – you owe it to yourself, your company and the UK to train skilled people via apprenticeships.

We absolutely back National Apprenticeship Week.  We absolutely back apprenticeships.  But the spirit of this week should be about reminding businesses of the value of investing in their workforce, at all levels.  People will always power business.  It’s up to business to ensure that they keep their people sharp – whether that’s through an apprenticeship or any other training.  Invest in your people, and your business will take care of itself.