Earlier this month, we announced that our Apprenticeship vacancy system had received a record-breaking 100,000 Apprenticeship applications in June. The number of vacancies advertised on our online recruitment portal also stood at a record high of 15,000. These numbers further reinforce the confidence of learners and employers in the Apprenticeship programme. They also mean that more young people considering their options at present following examination results have the prospect of finding a great way of continuing their development through work.
Taking on apprentices is a very important responsibility. When I visit employers, the ones who impress me the most are those whose Apprenticeship programmes are part of a wider talent development approach for their whole organisation. This means that the training and development does not begin and end with the Apprenticeship. It is only the start and there is a clear recognition that the full return on the investment in an Apprenticeship is only achieved if that individual is given the opportunity to continue to grow and develop their talents and skills afterwards.
It can be argued that an Apprenticeship that is designed solely to allow an apprentice to focus on their immediate role may produce profitable workers fast but will not fully embed them into the organisation. However an Apprenticeship that enables apprentices to see the organisation from all angles and reflect on what they are learning helps produce employees who can contribute too many areas of the business over their career lifespan. This type of training, termed by academics as an ‘expansive apprenticeship’, produces results which are clearly set out in the research reports.
When speaking with employers about Apprenticeships, I always think it is important to speak from my own experience of employing apprentices at NAS. I have learnt a lot from our apprentices who routinely challenge us to re-evaluate upwards the work that we ask them to do. They are so keen to learn and develop themselves further. We realise the importance of creating a culture where existing staff embrace the apprentices and understand the importance of an inclusive workplace for all employees. More experienced staff enjoy passing on their skills and do not always appreciate how much they know until the apprentices draw it out of them. The energy and enthusiasm of our apprentices is infectious and affects all of their colleagues.
In NAS we have managed to turn our apprentices into ‘mini celebrities’. I am not sure that this was a deliberate strategy! We gave them a starring role at our Annual Conference, where they were able to present on the wide variety of work they had been involved in and answer questions from our staff about their own experiences as an apprentice. I have to remind colleagues here that while our apprentices are often the centre of our attention, we should ensure that all members of staff get great training and development opportunities and support.
When speaking with our apprentices it is clear that one of their most memorable experiences at NAS has been to represent the organisation in our Apprentice Challenge. Competing against teams of apprentices from Bentley, the Co-operative, Virgin Media, Rolls-Royce, Balfour Beatty, MBDA and Cobham, NAS apprentices raised over £1,325 for Cancer Research UK whilst raising the profile of Apprenticeships in the local and national press. This success was not only celebrated by the apprentices themselves but by all our staff. While the recognition that our apprentices receive is laudable in itself, its main value is to set the bar for the standards that all members of staff should expect.
Our recent employer survey, in which 4,000 employers were interviewed, highlighted that nearly half of the employers, 47%, had recommended Apprenticeships to other employers. I also attended a round table in which employers were discussing ways in which they could do more to mentor employers who were not as far down the road of employing Apprentices. This shows the high regard that Apprenticeships are held in by employers but I still do meet employers who are unsure about the investment needed to take on an apprentice. I always say if you are ever in doubt about the worth of an apprentice, meet some. In my experience they are not only the most knowledgeable but the most passionate as well. Apprentices are the best role models and greatly enjoying this responsibility when given it.
David Way is chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service