The summer of 2015 saw David Cameron announce radical plans to increase the number of quality apprenticeships across England as part of the government’s ambitious pledge to create a massive 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. We’ve taken a closer look at apprenticeships and how they’re changing the face of the workforce in Norfolk.
What is an Apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships combine on-the-job training in a real world working environment with theoretical knowledge, often taught at a college or training centre. Open to school leavers as well as mature candidates, apprenticeships are an alternative to full-time education but still work towards nationally recognised qualifications, whether a BTEC Certificate, Maths, English and ICT qualification or other recognised industry specific qualifications.
Apprenticeships can take between one and four years to complete, depending on the industry, type of qualification and the requirements of the employer. One of the biggest benefits for many young people is the chance to earn while you learn. The National Minimum Wage for apprentices aged 16-18 and during the first year for those over 19, rose from £2.73 per hour to £3.30 per hour on the 1st October 2015.
Many see an apprenticeship as a best-of-both-worlds solution when deciding between continuing their studies, either at college or university, or entering the workplace. For many industries, hands-on and first hand experience is the only way to learn the skills and techniques necessary, for example in IT and software development. Because of the practical skills learnt throughout an apprenticeship and access to the latest methods, technologies and techniques of the trade, government research shows over 90% of apprentices stay in employment after finishing their apprenticeship. Paul Grenyer, Managing Director of Naked Element comments, “Not only are apprenticeships a credible and cheaper alternative to university for young people, but they offer a fantastic opportunity for employers to teach them what is really needed in their businesses.”
Apprenticeships in Norfolk
Norfolk County Council created the Apprenticeships Norfolk Network to “help increase the number, level, range and quality of apprenticeships in the county, as well as generating an additional 5,000 apprenticeships across Norfolk and Suffolk by 2019.” In 2013 they announced £3.5m of public funding to help subsidise 400 apprentices’ wages for SMEs who took on an apprentice for the first time. The Apprenticeships Norfolk Network places particular emphasis on the country’s growing sectors including engineering, energy, advanced manufacturing, hospitality and tourism, creative industries, health and social care, agriculture, and food and drink.
Apprentices Norfolk reveal “at any one time there are thousands of apprenticeships available in a variety of industry sectors across England (and usually over 200 vacancies in Norfolk alone each month).”
What’s more, based on figures for vacancies advertised across Norfolk in June 2015, many employers are paying their apprentices far more than the apprentice National Minimum Wage – even with the October increase. Based on an average of 30 hours earning £3.30 per hour, apprentices would earn £99 per week, but figures showed that weekly wages for some Norfolk based apprenticeship vacancies were as high as £308 per week.
Businesses with apprentices in Norfolk
With over 200 vacancies for apprenticeships every month in Norfolk, more and more Norfolk based businesses of all shapes and sizes, are looking to apprenticeships to find committed and high calibre candidates to drive their business forward.
Historically there has been a stereotype that apprenticeships were only the domain of builders and hairdressers. This myth has well and truly been dispelled with apprenticeships available in businesses across the board, from graphic design and nursing, to horticulture to hospitality. Plus, everyone from one-man bands to national names like Sainsbury’s and BMW are offering apprenticeship schemes in a bid to shape the next generation of the country’s workforce.
So impressed with their first apprentice back in 2009, Norwich-based KLM UK Engineering offered eight Norfolk school-leavers prestigious apprenticeships on its flagship training programme in 2013. KLM UK also played a core role in establishing the Norwich International Aviation Academy, the first of its kind in the UK, and bringing with it a further 80 engineering apprenticeships to the area every year.
Lotus, one of Norfolk’s famous exports, launched a recruitment drive in July 2015 which saw 25 apprentices join the British manufacturer’s 1000 strong taskforce.
Complimenting one of their key campaigns, ‘Developing the Talent of our Young People’ Norfolk Chamber have welcomed 4 apprentices over the last 3 years and have expressed their commitment to bringing together education and the world of work.
Naked Element took on apprentice Lewis Leeds in August and are teaching him software engineering. Lewis was immediately productive and the extra pair of hands helped Naked Element secure a project with a new client.
Support for Apprenticeships in Norfolk
Apprenticeships have become such an important part of the future of our workforce, councils up and down the country have set up networks in support of bridging the gap between employers and budding apprentices. Take Apprenticeships Broadland for example, under the guidance of Broadland District Council, Apprenticeships Broadland are a specialist training provider offering apprenticeships in everything from retail to dentistry and equestrianism to customer service.
Norfolk County Council have also demonstrated a commitment to apprenticeships in the region with Build Norfolk, a network led by the NPS Group of the council. Build Norfolk aims to develop the county’s construction supply chain and promotes the role apprentices will play in doing so.
What’s more, Norfolk County Council have given a membership organisation, Swarm, £50,000 to deliver a new take on apprenticeships. Swarm is a collection of businesses, with space for 80 businesses and apprentices, who have signed up to a scheme that will create groups containing 10 apprentices and 10 businesses, centred around a market town. Swarm will employ the apprentices directly in the hope that after a successful year-long apprenticeship the businesses will bring the apprentice into the business and onto their own payroll. In essence Swarm are offering small businesses in market towns the chance to try-before-you-buy and reap the rewards of having an apprentice without any of the paper pushing.
Saffron Housing set up the Saffron Apprenticeship Programme in early 2013 to help 20 local business dip their toes into the apprenticeship pool. The programme’s trust will source and employ up to 20 apprentices and contract them out to local businesses. This means businesses will benefit from having an apprentice, but the HR support and training will be supplied by the programme.
As well as organisations and training providers who are committed to supporting the growth of apprenticeships in Norfolk, there are also groups dedicated to supporting the apprentices themselves. East of England Apprentices is “about bringing together apprentices, past, present and future, to share their experiences, advice and socialise with like minded folk who are at a similar stage in their chosen careers.” The group’s quarterly meet ups give apprentices the chance to give and get advice from other apprentices and provide an important support system for the growing community of apprentices in the area.
Building on success
2015 has been a pivotal year for apprenticeships in the UK. The government have pledged to create 3 million apprenticeships across England by 2020 and they’re certainly not alone in identifying the unique potential they hold, not only for the future of the workforce, but for the next generation of the country’s tradesmen and women. As we’ve seen, Norfolk based businesses have embraced the benefits of apprenticeship schemes and this could go some way towards explaining how the region is now able to boast record levels of employment.