Business Secretary Vince Cable at the launch of National Apprenticeship Week 2015.

Apprenticeships: a win-win situation

There’s never been a better time to start an apprenticeship and this week’s National Apprenticeship Week 2015 has shone a spotlight on all that such schemes have to offer.

National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) 2015 has been running all this week, with events across the country to celebrate the success of apprenticeships and the remarkable impact they have on people, businesses and the economy.

Key events during the Week included a launch event at the London Eye attended by Vince Cable. The Business Secretary met employers and apprentices and spoke about the future of apprenticeships. A Made by Apprentices event at the House of Commons, hosted by Jason Holt CBE and attended by Skills Minister Nick Boles, focused on the benefits that apprentices can bring to small businesses and showcased some of the products and services created by apprentices working for SMEs.

A key focus of this, the eighth, National Apprenticeship Week was to encourage more employers to pledge to take on more apprentices and trainees. Re-launched for 2015, NAW sees the return of the Pledge-o-meter, allowing employers to share their pledges to take on apprentices in the run up to, and live during the week. The good news is that even more young people will be able to ‘get in and go far’ with an apprenticeship, as more than 23,000 new apprenticeships have been pledged so far by employers. A full list of all employers who have made a pledge will be published by the National Apprenticeship Service by the end of the Week.

The Week also saw the launch of degree apprenticeships. Now for first time, apprentices will be able to achieve a full bachelor’s or master’s degree while earning and learning.

There are now some 1,000 businesses involved in designing the new apprenticeship standards and with over 1,500 different apprenticeships on offer in more than 170 industries, there is a diversity of opportunity for today’s young people.

“In launching National Apprenticeship Week we are celebrating the 2.1 million apprenticeship starts since 2010 and the positive impact they are having on businesses around the country. The benefits of apprenticeships are clear - they make a vital contribution to the economy, boost business productivity and give people the skills they need to get on in the world of work," notes Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Popularity drift

A look back at census data shows that out of the top ten most common apprenticeships in 1914 engineering came in at number two on the list, right behind dressmaking! Fast forward 100 years, however, and, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research data, engineering slips in at number nine in the top ten most popular apprenticeships for 2014, just above hairdressing!

Why so? With the buzz of NAW 2015 still ringing in our ears let’s take a look at what apprenticeships now offer in the engineering and technology sector and why campaigns like NAW 2015 are so important in raising the profile of apprenticeships in the UK.

New data from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) shows that engineering and manufacturing business could gain additional revenue from apprenticeships. The report, ‘The Benefits of Apprenticeships to Businesses’, reveals that a typical apprentice in the engineering and manufacturing sector delivers long-term productivity gains of almost £20,000 per annum (£19,872) almost double that of a typical apprentice (£10,000) in other sectors.

In addition, five million consumers would prefer to do business with apprentice employers and one in four said they would pay a price-premium for services or products that champion apprentices in the sector.

“We’ve been recruiting apprentices for over 35 years," reveals HR and Training Manager, Steve Starling from Suffolk-based JEB Engineering Design. "Many staff members in senior positions here started out as apprentices, including our managing director. We believe our future success is dependent on a strong, sustainable apprenticeship programme.”

Sue Husband, Director of Apprenticeships at the National Apprenticeship Service, corroborates this view: “It is vital we continue to increase the number of apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing. Businesses need these high level skills to grow and compete. We need to encourage more leading businesses in the sector to widen their apprenticeship offer, but equally ensure apprenticeship programmes are attractive to young people.”

So, it’s good for businesses, ergo the economy, but is it good for you, the apprentice, too? It looks like it…Taking up an apprenticeship straight out of school could land you with an ample starting salary, a secure income whilst you learn, and the opportunity to avoid coming out the other end with a large student debt weighing heavily upon your young well-qualified shoulders.

According to recruitment specialists Reed, the average engineering apprentice can expect to earn a starting salary of just over £17,000 per year and with some of Britain’s biggest and brightest companies running schemes, you can gain the skills and knowledge you need to succeed, in some cases up to degree level, while working and earning.

 “We want it to become the norm for young people to choose between an apprenticeship or university as equally prestigious routes to a great career and secure finances in the years ahead," says Husband.

Win-win situation

One of the UK’s largest employers of apprentices is BAE Systems, taking on over 400 apprentices every year. As well as being the UK’s biggest employer of professional engineers (circa 18,000 in total), its apprenticeship programmes, two of which are IET-approved schemes, are rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and many of its apprentices go on to win regional and national apprentice awards.

This year, BAE Systems is offering 710 apprenticeship places, the highest intake since the company was formed some 14 years ago, on a range of engineering and business apprenticeships at 16 of its sites across the UK, with each lasting between two and five years. Many apprentices study for an academic qualification one day a week alongside their apprenticeship, allowing them to gain a university-equivalent degree in a specific specialism.

“Apprentices are a vital part of our talent pool and we find that our training programmes really help young people develop their full potential and become financially stable at a relatively young age. This is a win-win situation for our apprentices, our company and the wider economy," says Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director at BAE Systems.

Echoing the success of this approach, Richard Hamer, BAE Systems Education Director & Head of Early Career Programmes, explained: “Our apprentices have a fantastic track record of reaching the highest leadership positions at BAE Systems with the MD of our military aircraft business beginning his career as an apprentice.”

Helping hand

And you’re not alone…If you’re on an engineering and technology apprenticeship scheme, the IET can support and guide you through your career development with its IET Apprentice Signature membership package.

This support comes in the form of a range of apprenticeship resources, expert personal support, training and technical information, and a reduced membership rate. This material aims to complement your on-the-job learning, college study, qualifications and the key skills requirements of your apprenticeship scheme.

IET apprentice Sam Ball, 21, undertaking an apprenticeship at MBDA Missile Systems, recently had the opportunity to address the Conservative Party Conference with a speech on the importance of apprenticeships. Talking about the experience she said: “I spoke about what my apprenticeship includes, and how not only is my degree paid for by my employer, but I am also paid to do it. I also spoke of the different opportunities that my apprenticeship has given me, such as meeting MPs, winning a national award, being actively involved in charity events and the Industry Apprentice Council.

“I finished by saying how grateful I am for the lifestyle that an apprenticeship has given me. I am able to afford a good social life, nice holidays, to run a car and I am also currently saving for a house deposit.”

Everyone’s a winner

Apprenticeships are good news. They deliver for businesses as well as providing life-changing opportunities for young people. As Business Secretary Vince Cable said at the launch of NAW 2015: “As research shows, there has been an important shift in the attitudes towards apprenticeships with businesses, consumers, and young people recognising the significant opportunities they can offer.”

The CEBR report examines the benefits that apprentices offer businesses both while they are training and long after they have completed their apprenticeships, and the words of apprentices themselves, like Sam Ball above, are testament to the benefits and opportunities on offer to young people through such schemes.

To find out more about National Apprenticeship Week, search for apprenticeships on www.gov.uk.

E&T podcast: Engineering apprenticeships - get in, go far

E&T talks to Scott Bredda, Technical Director at GE Precision Engineering, and Charles Marshall, the company's latest apprentice, to hear about the apprenticeship scheme and the benefits it offers both parties.

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