Mark Casci: Our duty to champion the power of apprenticeships

One of the great privileges of being a journalist is the chance you get to speak to important and influential people.

Hundreds queue outside the Leeds Apprenticeships Recruitment Fair in March 2018.

These opportunities are ones I never take for granted. I have learned more from this job than I am likely to learn from any chapter of my life, either in the past or in the future.

But I must say, that conversations I have which fill me with the most inspiration, hope and energy tend to be those I have with young people in business.

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One of those examples came this week during a roundtable The Yorkshire Post staged this week with Engie to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week.

Round table event on apprenticeships at Wakefield Town Hall..Nathan Brough from Engie speaks at the event..5th March 2019.Picture by Simon Hulme

In Wakefield Town Hall I heard from two of the firm’s apprentices, Alissia James and Tom Hall, who told those in attendance about their experiences in the scheme.

Engie has a very well-developed apprenticeship programme, putting people, young and old, through work-based learning schemes which are equipping them with the skills to become anything from carpenters to site managers.

Both Alissia and Tom are reaping the benefits of this, and this was evident in the passion they spoke with about their roles.

Alissia outlined very eloquently how it was the support of both her managers but also her fellow trainees that had allowed her to develop and progress her career. Meanwhile Tom, who served our country in the Armed Forces for nearly a decade, told us how he was taken on following his exit from service.

Skills training and apprenticeships

I have written in these pages several times about the crucial importance of apprenticeship schemes to both our economy and to the development prospects of our young people.

When I was a boy it was a simple choice at school, go to university and become a success or don’t go to university and experience the opposite.

In the 1990s apprenticeships were barely mentioned to school children in my experience.

And while I thoroughly enjoyed my studies at Leeds University I remember distinctly watching the amount of money I owed rise while some of my friends were able to buy decent cars, go on decent holidays and really make a start in life.

Some were working in trades but several were working as apprentice accountants. They were working and studying in tandem, diving into real life earlier and doing so in a way which did not leave them with the considerable incumbrance of student loans.

Today, it is pleasing to see this imbalance beginning to slip into the bottom of the sea where it belongs.

Senior business leaders of companies large and small are realising the awesome impact they can play at every level of their business.

Whether it is a more diverse workforce, instilling loyalty early on, ensuring the next generation of workers or the sheer joy that is seeing the development and nurturing of talent, the benefits are too strong to ignore.

More than anything, they offer a route into well-paid, high-skilled and future proof industries that many young people would not have via the university route.

However we are far from the top of the mountain.

It is clear that schools and career advisors are not putting the apprenticeship offering strongly enough to young people.

Many parents are still imbued with the same university or bust mind-set that existed in my teens.

And of course there is the Apprenticeship Levy. While this scheme in the main has been a positive one, it is clear there is need for refinement.

Take the comments of Joanne Taylor from Wakefield College. She says that the 20 per cent requirement of teaching should be replaced with a sliding scale to better fit specific sectors and that the levy should be used to fund salaries to help embolden companies in their approach to apprenticeships.

In the meantime its the duty of all businesses, particularly the media, to keep spreading the word as to what options are available so that we can have more people like Alissia and Tom being given the tools they need to make a great success of their lives.