Figures released by the Department of Education indicate that the take-up of apprenticeships fell by 141,300 to 315,900 between August 2017 and May this year. The reasons for this drop off are not clear.
But whatever the reasons for the diminishing uptake, this should not detract from the hundreds of businesses, large and small, who are doing excellent work providing pathways for apprentices into employment. There are many businesses that are passionate about apprenticeships and are using them both to grow their own companies and create new, well-paying jobs.
Despite the fall-off in apprenticeship take-up figures nationally, 290,500 apprenticeships were started during the first three quarters of the 2017/18 academic year. At a time when careers are no longer linear, and fewer people can expect a job for life, these apprentices gain the specific work-related skills the country needs to fill the skills gaps and create economic success in the future. Rather than focusing on the negatives, we should be celebrating the companies who are so committed to supporting these apprentices.
Virgin Media is one of the UK’s best-known businesses. Many other businesses could learn from their approach. The company offers all levels of apprenticeships from intermediate up to degree apprenticeships across areas including engineering, legal services, planning, data analysis, health and safety and project management. More than 1,120 apprentices have been trained by the company since 2008, and last year 142 people enrolled.
Virgin Media lives its brand, and this is obvious from looking at their apprenticeship scheme. They are good at creating an inclusive culture, with apprentices sharing the same benefits as fully trained staff members including perks such as performance-related pay, season ticket loans, discount schemes and employee rates on mobile and broadband.
Euro Car Parts
The automotive industry has led the way in apprenticeships for many years. Large international firms including BMW, Honda, Toyota and Land Rover have been operating schemes for decades. Euro Car Parts is another less well-recognised apprenticeship success story. Founded by refugee Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia in 1978 from a single car accessories shop, the firm is now one of the UK’s leading employers and has been running apprenticeship programmes for many years.
Its apprenticeship schemes operate at all levels of the business – from its branch network, to management, to its warehouse. The company has been especially successful at using their apprenticeship programme to provide unemployed people, both young and old, with the skills to find work. Research published in the Human Resource Management International Digest found that one of Euro Car Parts’ apprenticeship and trainee schemes turned participants into skilled, long-term members of their staff.
The study found that the Euro Car Parts Academy [scheme] “gave unemployed people the skills and attitudes needed for successful careers at ECP, the academy is providing a financially attractive, low-risk way to get the right people into the business.” In fact, according to the research, everyone who went through the scheme was offered employment by Euro Car Parts afterwards.
Another business committed to apprenticeships is construction firm Wates. Company Chairman, James Wates said recently that “[g]ood business well done is good for society,” and the firm lives by this principle. They invested £1.6m in training and development last year and offer apprenticeships in business administration, planning, customer services, engineering and other trade apprentices.
The company uses every opportunity to increase the number of apprenticeships they offer, and on top of the 190 people on a structured apprenticeship, in May they announced their intention to create 160 more to work on the renovation of buildings on the UK Parliament estate.
Many smaller family businesses are just as committed to creating apprenticeships, and often go the extra mile in terms of resourcing and support. In some sectors this support is undervalued but just as vital to the UK economy. The paint, printing inks and wallcoverings industries, for example, are worth more than £188 billion to the UK, and three in every four cans of paint sold in the UK are made here.
Bagnalls is a painting, decorating and specialist industrial-coatings contractor that provides the kind of effective support and apprenticeships that lead to successful careers within the company. In fact, Richard Britten started as a Bagnalls apprentice, 25 years ago. Today he is a Board Director with the firm, which shows you just how seriously the company takes its training schemes. Richard Britten said recently “an apprenticeship at Bagnalls isn’t just learning how to paint – it’s about learning the craft and being given the chance to progress.”
The UK is currently going through a period of very rapid change, and many businesses are finding it more difficult to find skilled well-qualified people to join their companies. Brexit is likely to make this even more difficult. In the fact of these skill shortages, there is a lot that can be learnt from the companies above.