Student Shaun Evans, Geoff Ford MBE, Chris Toon of Gateshead College and student Courtney Davidson
Student Shaun Evans, Geoff Ford MBE, Chris Toon of Gateshead College and student Courtney Davidson

Innovation in education: If apprenticeships make us work-ready, what makes us apprenticeship-ready?

In recent years especially, apprenticeships have provided a popular option for employers seeking to support and grow their workforces.

Built around coupling on-the-job training with classroom learning, apprenticeships ultimately serve a purpose to prepare inexperienced workers for full-time roles.

However, with industries seeming to rely more on this method of employment and indeed the government placing increased emphasis on the system - a la Apprenticeship Levy - is quality control now more important than ever when it comes to apprenticeships?

With apprentices more often than not hailing from the 14 to 19 age bracket, with little ‘life’ experience nevermind exposure to work, it’s worth raising the question whether more needs to be done to support a demographic now playing an enlarged role in the economy.

Indeed the irony isn’t lost on me, preparing those who are preparing for work, although a recent collaboration here in the North East should provide further context to the debate.

A pre-apprenticeship stage?

North East employer Ford Engineering Group has recently partnered with Gateshead College to deliver a six-month traineeship, aimed at preparing young people to undertake engineering apprenticeships.

A group of 32 successful candidates have now enrolled on the scheme and are studying at Gateshead College’s purpose-built Skills Academy for Automotive, Engineering, Manufacturing and Logistics, which contains the latest cutting-edge machinery and tooling equipment.

Designed to help people move into an apprenticeship or a job, the programme equips trainees with core skills and competencies needed for key engineering tasks such as preparing and using milling machines and lathes, and producing mechanical engineering drawings using computer aided design (CAD) technology.

It also covers health and safety, work preparation methods, and literacy and numeracy skills which allow students to gain essential English and maths qualifications.

Essentially, the intake embark on a four-week work placement which provides valuable experience of a real-life engineering environment, and are given the chance to secure an apprenticeship at the end of the programme.

Geoff Ford MBE, chairman at Ford Engineering, elaborates on the necessity behind the collaboration.

Mr Ford explains: “There continues to be a chronic skills shortage in engineering. We need to be more proactive in developing and nurturing the next generation of skilled workers and protecting the future of the region’s businesses.

“This programme with Gateshead College will help us to meet this challenge head-on. It also prepares young people for the world of work, giving them the technical skills they need and instilling in them the right attitude and work ethic that will help them forge a successful career.

“The training facilities at the academy are unrivalled and we’re glad to be working with a nationally recognised education provider that clearly understands the skills needs of businesses in the local engineering sector.”

Enlightened approach or lost values?

I’ve covered industrial news in the North East for over three years now and one thing to prevail, amongst an ever-evolving business landscape, is the persisting challenges firms face in recruiting skilled staff. In fact, most businesses in the region would cite the skills gap as a key barrier to growth despite the advances we’re making.

Ford Engineering and Gateshead College launched this scheme in a bid to help manufacturing and engineering firms plug such gaps and build sustainable workforces for the future.

With firms facing today’s two-pronged attack of austerity and Brexit uncertainty, clearly increased collaboration between enterprise and education is more important than ever.

Granted, at first you might laugh at the concept of ‘preparing to be prepared’ although schemes like this, in my view, should be hailed. Simply put they’re practical attempts to add value and therefore, should be encouraged.

As ever, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Are schemes like this an indictment that our economy has become over-reliant on apprentices? Would more programmes of this nature significantly improve the quality of apprentices for both employers and learners? Or has the world simply ‘gone soft’?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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