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How to make apprenticeships meaningful

Put the word ‘meaningful’ in front of the word apprenticeship, and you will automatically form your own opinions as to what you think a ‘meaningful apprenticeship’ is.

The industry currently has no consistent message or perception, and without clarity, it will remain a challenge to attract talented and ambitious young people away from other sectors and developmental pathways such as university.

So practically, we need to ensure apprenticeships are fit for purpose, relevant and flexible. This has to start with a realistic appraisal of the type of skills that are going to be required in the future, not those that are in demand now, so that a two or three-year apprenticeship delivers a rounded, job-ready individual.

Creating the development pathway

This starts with the delivery of relevant internal training for mentors and other team members, as these are given the task of nurturing apprentices day to day.

For an apprentice to thrive, they need to feel they are being given jobs that make a positive contribution to the business. Since staff cannot always be expected to understand or feel comfortable performing this role as well as their day job, the right support is essential.

Getting the balance between attracting the right individuals, educating them and delivering practical experience requires much closer collaboration between the industry, schools and education / training providers.

“Standing still is going to create a much bigger long-term cost that the industry just won’t be able to afford”

With this in mind, I would urge the industry to ‘go back to school’: first to sell itself and second to open its doors to work experience, the traditional and still most successful way to increase awareness of the sector. These opportunities enable us to show how exciting things like virtual reality can play a role in the industry, alongside how we deliver the buildings in which they learn, live and shop.

When it then comes to actually delivering meaningful apprenticeships, we have to be much more flexible to accommodate the best combination of learning and on-the-job experience. This starts with recognising that what works for one person or group doesn’t necessarily work for another.

Horses for courses

For example, at RMD Kwikform we have a five-week block release residential programme with Stephenson College in Leicestershire for our civil engineering apprentices, which completely contrasts with a local nine-month welding training programme for our maintenance apprentices. Both deliver the skills we need as a business and both are reviewed on a regular basis with the individuals, to ensure they are getting the right experience and support.

So it is not an easy task for even a single business to invest in and develop meaningful apprenticeships, let alone a whole sector.

Standing still is going to create a much bigger long-term cost that the industry just won’t be able to afford. Now is the time to put the ‘meaningful’ into apprenticeships.

Debby Wilson is head of HR at RMD Kwikform UK

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