A major campaign led by The Journal and Evening Gazette is aiming to boost the number of firms taking on apprentices in the North East. And, as Karen McLauchlan reports, it’s already a huge success.
APPRENTICESHIPS are back - in a BIG way. So says Simon Waugh, chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service.
In the last decade, there’s been an almost tenfold increase in the number of people opting for the apprenticeship route in the UK – with 2010’s figure standing at 280,000.
The Government has pledged further support to work-based learning, urging employers to help create 100,000 more apprentices by the year 2014.
And Business Secretary Vince Cable has committed to increase the budget for apprenticeships to more than £1.4bn in 2011-12.
“Apprenticeships have tended to be a best kept secret,” said Mr Waugh, “but they are vitally important to the economy, to businesses and transforming people’s lives.”
And a campaign is now working hard to create hundreds of opportunities in the region.
The 500 Apprentices In 100 Days campaign was launched in January by The Journal and the Evening Gazette in Middlesbrough in association with the National Apprenticeship Service and supported by the North East Chamber of Commerce.
Running until April 29, it smashed its original 100 in 100 days target within days.
John Wayman, regional director of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), said: “We have been genuinely overwhelmed by the positive response to the campaign.
“We decided to raise the bar higher with the aim of finding 500 apprenticeships in 100 days – an inspirational target which will ensure the campaign leaves a lasting legacy which we can all be proud of.”
Ninteen-year-old Victoria Hunter from Marton, Middlesbrough, is one apprentice reaping the rewards of work-based learning.
A recruit to the two-year Young Scientist Advanced Apprenticeship Programme, run by the TTE Technical Training Group in Middlesbrough, she’s currently working at Lucite International in Billingham.
Following in her father and grandfather’s engineering footsteps, she completed A-levels before opting for the apprenticeship route.
“I’ve been interested in engineering since primary school,” she said. “Some of my friends have gone to university, but for me, the apprenticeship route is easier. Your work relates to your studies, and your studies relate to your work.”
Currently studying one day a week for a degree, Victoria has ambitions to climb the career ladder.
“I want to be a project manager,” she added.
The drive to increase the number of apprenticeship places is well under way in the North East.
Sunderland car giant Nissan recently confirmed it is to make a further 25 apprenticeships available.
It will take the number of apprentices to 1,058 since it was established in 1984.
Middlesbrough College – a supporter of the 500 Apprentices In 100 Days campaign – currently has around 180 apprentices working towards qualifications and has created a post of managing director business partnerships, innovation and enterprise to work more closely with businesses.
College principal Mike Hopkins said he hoped to see that number grow to up to 1,000 in the next two to three years.
What has made apprentices more appealing to employers in recent years is their relatively low cost, with the national minimum wage for apprentices at £2.50 per hour and the average salary around £170 per week. In addition, employers who take on a 16-18-year-old apprentice only pay their salary, with the Government funding their training. “While the campaign comes to an end in April, it doesn’t stop there,” added Mr Waugh. “It’s about raising awareness and getting companies – particularly those that have never taken an apprentice on before – to consider the scheme. We want those that take on an apprentice to be an advocate for it – to talk to other people, get more and more companies engaged and create real momentum.”