The theme for this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is ‘Build the Future’, a vision that feels increasingly significant as the pandemic’s long-term impact on public health and the economy becomes clearer.
The government has said that it wants the week-long celebration to highlight how apprenticeships can “futureproof workforces and boost careers”. Now in its 14th year, NAW is part of a broader effort to promote the benefits of these further education programmes to both employers and individuals.
Combining classroom learning and on-the-job training can provide apprentices with early practical experience, new skills, recognised qualifications, and access to professional development opportunities.
Organisations that invest in apprenticeships can access government funding, save on recruitment costs and develop a higher-skilled workforce. In a 2017 survey, approximately three-quarters of employers reported that hiring apprentices had helped them improve productivity and the quality of their product or service.
Despite these potential benefits, numerous myths continue to plague apprenticeships. Some of the more common misconceptions include the views that these programmes are inferior to university courses, for people who don’t do well at school and only available in manual industries.
Behaviours, not compliance
To help debunk these myths, employers need to ensure that the apprenticeship programmes they run do not turn into box-ticking exercises.
Integral began to reimagine its approach to apprenticeships in 2018. As part of this transformation, Laura Roxburgh, Head of HR for Integral, says that the business has made a considerable effort to drive its programme through behaviours rather than compliance. This has meant empowering apprentices’ in numerous ways, including town halls in which apprentices are encouraged to give feedback and share fresh ideas.
Yash Kapila, Integral’s managing director, says the approach he wants to nurture within the business is informed by the training he experienced earlier in his career. “I worked for an organisation which believed in its scheme and did everything it possibly could to make sure the rotations were enjoyable, thorough and provided exposure to the various parts of the business. Moreover, it had the backing of senior leadership,” he explains.
With that in mind, Kapila says that his long-term aim is to make sure he and his leadership team get to know every apprentice and do their best to connect with every single one as much as they can. “When an apprentice comes to the end of their programme, we want them to look back and say that they had our full support,” he explains.
Promoting from within
One of the enduring myths surrounding apprenticeships is that they are exclusively for school leavers. The reality is that nearly half of all people starting as apprentices in England are adults aged 25 or over.
Like a growing number of employers, Integral is using apprenticeships to upskill or retrain current staff. Apprentice electrician Rob Salmon is one of several Integral staff who has joined the programme from the helpdesk. “When I was at school I had an opportunity to do an apprenticeship but for some reason I went to college to do photography,” he explains. Years later, Salmon says he had become unsatisfied with his desk job: “I was sick of working in an office. I wanted to do a job I actually enjoyed and Integral gave me that opportunity.” While Salmon was furloughed for six months at the beginning of the pandemic, he’s now gaining valuable work experience performing essential maintenance for Integral’s clients across East Anglia.
Although engineering and technical services are core to Integral, the business has also identified the value of apprenticeships for staff who have an opportunity to move into management roles across various departments. Shirin Easson and Mark Richings are two apprentices currently training to move into more senior contract manager roles. Easson provides contract support for a major financial services client and is en route to becoming a manager through a Level 3 apprenticeship. Richings is now a full-time contract delivery manager for several private sector clients after completing a Level 5 apprenticeship at the end of 2020.
“[The business] had spotted a talent in me,” says Easson. “And as part of my career progression, the plan was to do an apprenticeship at the right time.” That opportunity came about seven months ago and Easson hopes to finish the course this summer.
Riching has been at Integral for about 12 years. He started as an engineer before being promoted to supervisor. “Moving from an engineering or supervisor role where you’re out on the road to an office space is a big change in terms of scenery and culture, so the course definitely helped my development,” he says. “It helped me build relationships and develop a different view of the business.”
“You can’t batter down the door. You have to encourage the person behind the door to open it. And that’s what we’re doing. When we hit our targets, it’s not going to be because we forced a quota. It’ll be because people really understand that apprenticeships make a difference,” says Roxburgh.
To find out more about the Integral apprenticeships, please visit https://integral.co.uk/careers/.