Apprenticeships - Making sure pupils know all their future options

Making sure pupils know all their future options

Darren Hankey, principal of Hartlepool College, explains the benefits of apprenticeship opportunities, how education facilities can support students who want to go down the apprenticeship route, and how the development of young people should form a key part of a company’s growth strategy

There really never has been a better time to invest in apprenticeships. Hartlepool College was recently named the top further education college provider of apprenticeships in the North East and second in the country and we couldn’t be happier to continue advocating the benefits of taking on young people while they learn.

Over our 50 years of providing apprenticeships, we have seen hundreds of companies flourish as they’ve solved problems, plugged skills gaps and enabled the next generation of skilled workers filter through on the path to leading their businesses.

Bringing in young enthusiastic individuals to any business should be a key part of its growth strategy and, in my opinion, apprenticeships will always be one of the best way in which to do this.

But to do this we must also ensure that our young people know exactly the options they have to take when they reach the age of 16, whether that is continuing down the path of higher education, or finding a faster route into their chosen career, if possible through apprenticeship opportunities.

An equivalent studying option

Although a valuable and credible way of beginning a young person’s career, apprenticeships still have a stigma attached to them. We speak to so many students that have been pushed unwillingly into the path to A levels and university when really to get ahead in their chosen career they could have completed an apprenticeship, whilst earning money and gaining a job at the end of it. Not to forget, no university fees or debt. But that aside many employers continue the education of their apprentices through to higher and degree levels.

With regret, some learning providers encourage their students to go down the university path. But we must always ask ourselves what is best for the student.

Some would say that in mainstream schooling there is not enough information provided about apprenticeships and that is something colleges such as ourselves are trying to change, from attending exhibitions and careers fairs to taking part in talks not only with secondary school pupils but primary too.

Benefits to the local economy

Over the past year there have been key reforms to the apprenticeship levy that will come into practice in Spring 2017. This means that if as a business your PAYE bill is under £3m, which is an estimated 98 per cent of UK businesses, you are required to only pay a maximum of 10 per cent of the apprenticeship training and assessment costs with the government topping up the remaining 90 per cent. For smaller firms which employ less than 50 staff; there will be no upfront costs to taking on an apprentice.

This means for most firms starting out that there are no or minimal upfront costs, meaning that the business is instantly adding to its workforce, increasing its capacity and planning for a sustainable future.

While for smaller firms there are also various incentives to take on apprentices such as the current Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) that can see companies access a grant up to £1,500 per apprentice.

Apprenticeships could also be part of any company’s corporate social responsibility policy. Their employment benefits the wider community, ensuring young people are going into skilled work, relieving an ageing workforce and putting more money into the local economy through their disposable income and also in their value to a local business.

On top of this, apprenticeships contribute to the local area encouraging young people to become economically productive and instilling within them the value of work. This also then positively affects their mental health, dramatically reduces the chances that they are involved with crime or become a burden on the welfare state.

In particular sectors such as engineering, welding and construction we are very well versed in the looming skills gap, where companies are continuing to struggle in finding skilled labour to fill the gaps left by an aging workforce. The apprenticeship route directly helps solve this problem and allows that workforce to pass on its knowledge and expertise, meaning the apprentices are learning first hand on the job.

We’ve worked with national and international companies such as Darchem Engineering, Babcock, ISG, Gestamp Talent and many more to streamline their apprenticeship training and ensure they are matched perfectly with students on our apprenticeship learning programmes. In addition to this we also work with firms of just one and two people where taking on a member of staff feels much scarier.

That’s why we help them through the full recruitment and employment process of apprenticeships because it is something we are obviously well versed in and we want to take the hassle away from a one-person band who doesn’t want the process to take away any valuable earning time.

Benefits to the learner

However it isn’t all just benefits for the employer, the learner massively benefits. Firstly through the absolutely incomparable on-the‑job training they receive, can put them ahead of their university peers but also through their exposure to a real working environment.

With an apprentice an employer can be confident that they know how to act responsibly in a work environment.

On top of this the apprentice is earning while they learn leaving them motivated with a clear path of progression in the company that they’re working within and also potentially leaving them at the end of their apprenticeship with a university equivalent qualification along with invaluable work experience.

The large majority of our apprentices stay on in full‑time work with the company in which they completed their apprenticeship and we have had so many success stories over the years. Our local firms now have directors and members of the senior management team who were once apprentices and who have spent years working their way through the company to reach their positions.

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