As National Apprenticeship Week comes to a close, our director and founder, David White, looks back at the development of apprenticeships over a career spanning more than 30 years in the industry and what needs to be done to further address the skills gap moving forward.
Apprenticeships didn’t really exist when I first started out in the industry as a teenager. I did the closest thing I could at the time; I took on the role as a trainee technician at the city engineers department at Peterborough City Council, studying on day release at Peterborough Technical College.
Essentially, this was an apprenticeship although they weren’t formalised in that way at the time. I went on to study an ONC in mechanical engineering and then a higher national diploma in building services design at Hertfordshire College of Building, gaining chartered status in 1984.
My route into the industry was quite traditional but I know it’s not quite as easy or straightforward for young people today. There’s a lot of pressure on students today, whether it’s financial pressure or, as highlighted with yesterday’s International Women’s Day, societal pressure dictating what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ based on someone’s gender.
‘Modern apprenticeships’ were introduced in 1993 and, by the end of 1998 there were almost a quarter of a million apprentices in the UK. The scheme continued to evolve and we now have ‘higher apprenticeships’ and ‘degree apprenticeships’ which offer students the equivalent to foundation degrees and above.
As we all know, there’s a skills gap in our industry and, as a business, we can find it difficult to recruit. With more apprenticeships being introduced and a revised focus from the government in getting these positions filled I think we can make a real change in the industry but, crucially, businesses also need to buy into this.
Of course the government has to set the agenda but businesses at the heart of the engineering and construction industry need to be involved in the decision-making process and lend their expertise to how apprenticeship schemes are set out. We need to encourage both SMEs and large corporates alike to take on apprentices and use the apprenticeship levy to set an example to other businesses and show that it really does work.
I’m hopeful for the future of the apprenticeships programme in the UK and dedicated weeks like #NAW2018 are crucial in terms of promoting the right message to students.
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