The apprentice – you’re hired and highly regarded
8th February 2021
National Apprenticeship Week is always something to celebrate, but this year – amid all the disruption to schools and young people’s education – it seems more important than ever. If anything, in the aftermath of the pandemic, the value of apprenticeships to trainees, employers and UK Plc is set to grow even faster than it would otherwise have done.
There are several reasons for that, but first I should outline what our apprenticeship programme means to SUEZ recycling and recovery UK. Since 2019, we have supported 146 apprentices on our programme. Moreover, we have put apprentices at the heart of our recruitment and talent development strategies, as was recognised at the time with one of our apprentice training partners and our winning the ‘Large Employer of the Year Award’ from Weston College in Somerset.
Our approach is shaped both by business need and our philosophy. Working with business and communities to create a low-carbon circular economy is a huge challenge and we need capable people at all levels to accomplish it. Also, providing outstanding learning opportunities for our people is something we’re passionate about. So, we see apprenticeships as a key element of our vision to become a learning organisation.
Modern apprenticeships have changed hugely along with the world of work, and as employers we need to always be anticipating the changing needs of both the business and people – prospective recruits as well as apprentices and existing employees. For example, offering apprentices the opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of our business and how it operates is more attractive and stimulating than a narrow, learn-the-ropes and ‘get on with the job’ approach. Opening someone’s eyes to the wider purpose of the business and the breadth of career opportunities within it also nurtures our team spirit and inspires trainees to raise their sights to new career goals.
We do this by involving apprentices in business projects, giving them the chance to shadow senior leaders and board directors, facilitating peer support, and encouraging them to network within and outside the organisation (which will resume in-person after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted). Apprentices can broaden their knowledge and experience, putting their current role in context and building on it as they go further on any chosen career pathway.
And the starting points for apprenticeships are many and varied. They cover disciplines ranging from HGV fitter to business administrator, tax or payroll assistant to mechanical engineer through to MBAs. Again, our continuous learning programme allows apprentices to gain skills beyond the boundaries of their course and role. Our e-learning platform also makes access inclusive and practicable, with modules available on everything from using Excel to looking after your wellbeing.
External training providers have widened the array of apprenticeships available. The range is vast, and trainees can study from Level 2 NVQ to a degree qualification. Another positive development of recent years is that more existing employees – not just new hires – are taking on apprenticeships, choosing to undertake work-based study alongside their current job, and going on to post-graduate level.
Degree-level apprenticeships were already gaining in popularity as an alternative to full-time university courses, not least given annual fees of £9,000 or more and decades of loan repayments. Around half a million young people now start degree-level apprenticeships each year. Whilst there will always be a place for the university model, apprenticeships offer a credible and increasingly respected alternative.
However, studying for a degree while holding down a demanding day job is no easy option. I see it as very positive that degree apprenticeships are continuing to progress towards parity of esteem with the traditional full-time degree thereby opening up greater choice and opportunities. This can only be healthier for the UK as a society and economy. This new apprenticeship route to a first-class education is becoming ever more relevant to the modern workplace and a side effect of the pandemic may be to hasten this wider recognition among the public too.
Another Covid legacy is the general consensus on the need to build back better and greener after the economic hiatus. This will require a radical shift in the national jobs market and training provision to ramp up our capabilities in renewable energy, retrofitting our building stock, smarter product and packaging design, eliminating waste of food and materials, low-carbon technologies, and a host of other areas where innovation and new jobs and services will be essential to reach the UK’s 2050 net zero target.
Apprenticeships, irrespective of their level, can be a central part of this rebalancing of the economy – just as the UK rebalances its system of education so that vocational qualifications are awarded the same respect as academic credentials, and STEM-based careers are valued as highly as those in the arts, humanities and professions such as the law.
This would see National Apprentice Week live up to its 2021 ‘Build the Future’ theme and provide a much needed cause for celebration.Tweet