Johnston Press titles in South Yorkshire and the North Midlands are launching an awards scheme to recognise the increasing value of apprenticeships.
The awards, covering categories such as Apprentice of the Year and Employer of the Year, will celebrate the hardworking individuals and organisations involved in apprenticeships across the region.
Recent Government reforms mean apprenticeships are becoming more and more important to employers, their staff and young people. They are now seen as a legitimate alternative to university, offering training, payment and realistic job prospects to those at college age and above.
They are also increasingly seen by companies as a way to upskill existing staff and boost productivity.
In a roundtable event hosted by The Star in Sheffield, some of South Yorkshire’s key educators and employers backed the awards and explained the importance of apprenticeships to the region’s economy.
Sheffield College business development director Andrew Hartley is responsible for the future of thousands of young people. He said apprenticeships were now servicing the needs of the community in Sheffield City Region’.
“We have been really pleased to see over the last few years a recognition amongst society and business about the value apprenticeships can bring, ” he said.
“It’s recognition that it’s a very legitimate career pathway for individuals. You don’t have to go to university.”
The college naturally focuses on young people at the start of their careers, and has up to 850 apprentices studying and working at any one time, supported by about 500 employers.
Previously the rules governing apprenticeships were fairly rigid, meaning employers had little say on the kind of training on offer. But the Government reforms have allowed providers to be much more flexible and tailor courses to the needs of specific companies and job roles.
Mr Hartley said: “We are behind the reforms as they are all about trying to raise productivity. There’s this big gap in the UK where we are behind in terms of output compared to Germany, the US and other developed countries.
“Investment in training and skills development is seen as one way to address this. A lot of employers see apprenticeships as part and parcel of that solution.”
The aim of the new apprenticeship standards, according to the Government, is to put employers in control. The standards are designed to be short, simple and accessible, describing the skills and knowledge an individual needs to be fully competent in an occupation, and written by employers in their own language.
One employer making full use of the new standards is Doncaster’s Polypipe, which uses apprenticeships to fill engineering roles.
HR business partner Zena Wardle said apprentices were helping fill a skills gap in the town.
“It’s something we have to do, ” she said. “We have got an ageing workforce so we need these people putting in at a younger age.”
Polypipe apprentices enrol on a four year course, and are given time for study alongside their practical training.
A key advantage, said Ms Wardle, is the opportunity to build connections between the apprentices and the company.
“We tend to retain our staff, ” she said. “We invest quite heavily in people.
“They grow up and it’s like a family. And providing they have the right skills, they could be promoted to a management position.
“But there’s no age limit on that.”
Bob Clifford is employer engagement executive at Learning Unlimited, which runs apprenticeship courses. Eight or nine years ago, he said, the firm had 250 apprentices. It now has 5,000.
Key for Mr Clifford is that apprenticeships offer a dream package’ of skills, experience, a real job and a real prospect of permanent employment - something which will help keep skilled workers in the region.
The firm’s largest client, an adult health care provider, has 200 people in training. Some are existing staff learning new skills.
The reforms, according to Mr Clifford, will make it easier for companies to create training schemes suited to their specific needs.
“There is going to be rigorous independent assessment that ensures people finish their qualification fit for the job role they have been trained for, ” he said.
“Everyone wins. It’s a real upgrade for the whole system.”
And with degree apprenticeships available, a viable alternative to university is on offer.
Mr Clifford said there was a clear message to young people.
“You have got real work experience, a very real prospect of a future with that organisation, a degree that someone else has paid for.
“It’s a terrific idea, and that’s a message to parents as well.”
As regional sales manager for Interserve Learning and Employment, Charles Ricketts travels the region selling apprenticeship schemes to companies large and small.
He believes the apprenticeship reforms are making things better for employers.
“The key quality from employers regarding standards is how can we demonstrate they are going to get a return on investment in terms of qualifications, and how is it going to benefit the employer?” he said.
“It’s key that we listen as much as we can to make sure it’s totally bespoke, rather than providing what we believe is easiest to deliver. If big companies are going to end up spending that money, they need to get exactly what they ask for.
“If we are honest and offer them what they want, then it’s beneficial for everyone and more employers will come on board and work with us.”
And James Godsell, head of business development at Vision Business, which is teaching 14,000 apprentices, said the opportunities for apprentices were practically unlimited.
“At two of our largest clients, both CEOs started as apprentices, ” he said.
“People clearly see that as an apprentice you have to come with the ambition and you have to be prepared to work hard.
“But we can demonstrate that at each step there is a final qualification that can support you.
“The sky is the limit, and a lot of people are now looking at apprenticeships as an alternative to university.
“Industry is now looking at taking people younger, at 16 or 17, and developing them in their own way.”
Event Date - Tuesday 16th May
Venue - Showroom Workstation, Sheffield
Awards website - nmsyapprenticeshipawards.com
This site will tell you everything you need to know about how to be involved in our first ever NMSY Apprenticeship Awards.
These awards celebrate and recognise the hardworking individuals and organisations involved in apprenticeships and how they shape our future.
As a Johnston Press event, our winners will be announced in 5 of our titles reaching nearly 1 million readers in print and online a month.
Use this site to enter our awards, learn about our sponsors and see the criteria for the categories.
If there is anything you would like to know but cannot find on this site then please get in touch with our friendly events manager Haroldine Lockwood 07803 505658 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Intro from Polypipe - Headline Sponsor - to be supplied by Friday midday at the latest.
List of categories and sponsors where applicable:
Small Employer of the Year
Medium Employer of the Year - sponosred by Vision Business
Large Employer of the Year - sponsored by Learning Unlimited
SME Newcomer of the Year - sponsored by Polypipe
Large Newcomer of the Year - sponsored by Polypipe
Sheffield’s Apprentice of the Year - sponsored by Sheffield College
Chesterfield’s Apprentice of the Year
Mansfield’s Apprentice of the Year
Doncaster’s Apprentice of the Year - sponsored by Doncaster College
Barnsley’s Apprentice of the Year
Rotherham’s Apprentice of the Year
Mentor of the Year - sponsored by Interserve
Training Provider of the Year
How to enter;
Visit the awards website for our online entry form and criteria for each category.
Closing date for entries - midnight Friday 31st March
Polypipe Building Products is proud to be the Headline Sponsor of these awards. As an employer of apprentices ourselves we know first-hand what value young and enthusiastic individuals can bring to a business and wish to support and recognise their hard work and achievements.
We were really pleased to be able to share our experience of employing and developing apprentices and hear the view of other employers in our region at this roundtable discussion.
Polypipe Building Products is the UK’s leading manufacturer of plastic piping systems for the residential market. We design, develop and manufacture over 20,000 product lines which are stocked in plumbers and builders merchants nationally.
We work with the AMRC to create bespoke training courses for our own apprentices, and continue our commitment to training and development by offering a wide range of CPD courses to all our staff. We have also created our own Professional Development Centre, based in Doncaster, to provide training to professional installers in the wider construction industry.
To learn more about us, visit www.polypipe.com