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Changing Perceptions & Raising Aspirations in Apprenticeships

4 years ago by Bell Group

By Julie Lawrenson, Bell Group National Training & Development Manager

It’s no secret that Apprentices are important in todays business landscape and for those employers like Bell that invest in Apprenticeships and have over three decades of success, the business benefits are real and demonstrable.

You may be surprised to learn that 85% of apprentices stay in employment following their training, 64% remain with their original employer and 1 in 5 companies have an ex apprentice represented at board level.

Apprenticeships make good business sense.

The Challenge

Having originally trained and graduated in construction engineering, my passion has long been in supporting young people into the construction sector, particularly those who find themselves disengaged, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have worked alongside, trained and supported apprentices for over 25 years and have been fortunate to collaborate with many stakeholders on major infrastructure projects to test a variety of employability models. I have led on a range of regional and national programmes of study exploring links between the aspirations, attitude and behaviours of young people and how their social upbringing influences educational attainment and participation. This was the pathway that swayed me away from construction operations and into training, development and apprenticeships.

Success at school has for a long time sadly weighted solely on academic excellence resulting in many students being left by the wayside. When we understand these areas of disadvantage, it then provides us with the opportunity to work with key stakeholders and influencers to implement new strategies and promote positive change within schools and the wider education system. When resource and investment is applied to these areas, young people generally flourish and over the years I have seen plenty evidence of this in practice.

With a significantly depleted careers service nationally and our sector somewhere at the bottom of the list of priorities then it will come as no surprise that many young people leave school with low aspirations simply because the provision of careers guidance setting out the full range of training options is not working. Timely and sustained engagement with young people is key and now more than ever, employers have an instrumental role to play in supporting this objective.

There are of course some well-established careers resources available and the Construction Industry Training Board alongside Trade Federations and Trade Associations play a critical role in championing the ‘apprenticeship’ cause and as such, they are to be applauded but the reality is that there is so much more to be done to educate influencers and promote apprenticeships within our sector. Apprenticeships are still seen as second best by many schools and whilst there is dedicated support for those achievers choosing the University route, there is not the same level of student support for Apprenticeships.

At Bell we acknowledge we have a part to play in the education process and continually review and update our careers engagement strategy to promote apprentice opportunities and ensure they are readily accessible. We weave in the support of our Community Engagement Team who play a part in engaging young people and to date have trained over 20 Construction Ambassadors across the business providing us with the edge to engage with schools’ colleges and present meaningful interventions to teachers and students alike.

Over recent years we have also refined our recruitment processes and have successfully linked in diploma and national progression award students from the regional Bell Academies providing an additional talent pipeline for Bell. In doing this, we have widened participation in our apprentice programme, improved diversity and supported greater social mobility across communities.

Responding to Change

Since 2016 there have been wide reforms to the Apprenticeship system; the introduction of the apprentice levy in England, the introduction of Trailblazers and shift from Apprentice Frameworks to Standards, a review of the National Occupational Standard and Skills Test and the introduction of the Modern Apprenticeship programme in Scotland. Although these changes may be for the greater good there is no doubt that they have presented employers with new challenges particularly large employers like Bell who employ apprentices across all 3 nations in the United Kingdom as the funding, programme content and delivery mechanism differ resulting in a complex terrain.

These changes coupled with many college mergers have resulted in programme interruptions and we will not be the only employer that has evidenced inconsistencies in apprenticeship provision over recent years leading to skills and competency gaps impacting on the calibre of apprentices and their future prospects. As a business we need the assurance that apprentices are work ready at the end of their programme and have a moral obligation to ensure that apprentices reach their potential and achieve their apprenticeship timely.

We recognise that apprentices work best when they are embedded into the fabric of our workforce planning and the greatest opportunities arise when the business has the ability to train apprentices in a way that promotes specific skills that are required by the business.

This was the catalyst for change.

The business made the decision in 2019 to move away from conventional apprenticeship provision, initially in Scotland, in favour of developing an in-company Apprentice delivery programme. With the support of colleagues at Skills Development Scotland, the national Skills Agency for Scotland the business commenced the process of becoming an accredited centre with the Scottish Qualification Authority and were subsequently awarded an Apprenticeship funding contract in 2020.

The Future

The journey to where we are now has been a real learning curve and as we move forward will no doubt continue to present us with new and stretching opportunities but at the same time it is an exciting time for the business and in establishing ‘Bell Apprenticeships’ we welcome on board a team that are committed to supporting our business vision. Our delivery model means that Bell are not only investing in young people but the business as a whole and this ensures long term sustainability. Our focus will be on providing learners with skills, knowledge and behaviours relevant to our workplace, embedding organisational culture every step of the way resulting in high calibre painters and decorators.

As we move towards our 2020 intake, we have put measures in place that will allow young people to maximise their potential once they have joined us. We will utilise the wealth of experience and expertise of existing Supervisors and Managers within the business to deliver on the job training and by means of recruiting a dedicated Skills Co-ordinator will ensure that there is a consistent approach to development and competency across the Bell branch network for each and every apprentice that joins our programme. Our Assessors are newly appointed and come with a wealth of experience within the painting and decorating sector and will follow their own programme of Continual Professional Development as they carry out their own role in reviewing and assessing our learners.

Bell apprentices will benefit from high quality off the job training interventions that will be a stimulating and engaging part of their programme of study. They will have access to our on line learning portal ‘Elevate’ to enhance their development, the support of our internal safety team; Bell Safety Services who will deliver accredited Health & Safety training and support local managers deliver our Working at Height Standard resulting in work ready, confident and competent apprentices on completion of their apprenticeship programme. This new model also provides an ideal platform for me in the capacity of National Training and Development manager to impart my knowledge and deliver training through a range of mediums as well as providing bespoke training to our dedicated Apprentice Mentors who are appointed to promote the wellbeing and progression of our learners and supporting them to achieve their aspirations.

We acknowledge that apprentices will bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to our business. We also know that we have the ability to offer apprentices a long and fulfilling career. By providing scalable and sustainable investment ‘Bell Apprenticeships’ will become the ‘go to’ employer in Scotland for Painting & Decorating Apprenticeships.

In simple terms, Investing in Apprenticeships and Investing in our Future.