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Training on the job

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Increasing the number of apprenticeships is core to improving young people’s lives.

Across the UK companies are reviewing and expanding their apprenticeship schemes in order to build a better-skilled, world-class workforce. But such progress is not uniform across the public sector and very patchy indeed across local government. As service providers, employers and community leaders we need to seize apprenticeships as a way to shape our areas’ long-term economic development.

Embracing the idea

Part of the problem is the need to embrace the idea of ‘apprentice’. The term has ancient roots, and in legislative terms dates back to the reign of Elizabeth I. Sadly, for some the term is associated with manual crafts that local government squeezed in budget rounds many years ago, or our serf ancestors being ‘bound’ and ‘freed’ in family history research.

But in reality, there is nothing more prescient than a modern apprenticeship, which at its core is a contract between somebody who wants to increase their economic prospects and a person or organisation with skills to impart in return for their work. Employers cannot guarantee a permanent job at the end of the apprenticeship, but both they and their employee give a joint commitment to ensure that the apprentice reaches a recognised standard with skills that are transferable to other employers.

Britain’s economic performance relies on value-added goods and services. In turn, the public sector has now reached the point where customer expectations mean that staff must have the skills and training to deliver better services. Apprenticeships offer us the chance to improve our services and also develop more dynamic workforce strategies that create talent pools for a wide range of roles. We can do this as individual employers, or, on a shared-service basis for hard-to-recruit roles.

At the heart of LAAs

But just as our organisations need better skills, so do many of the communities we serve. It is not surprising that so many local strategic partnerships have put the skills agenda at the heart of their local area agreements. In Barking & Dagenham, for example, raising skill levels, tackling worklessness and reducing the number of young people not in education, employment and training underpins our regeneration proposals. The council has made a commitment to create 100 new apprenticeships. Through partnership, the target is 400 apprenticeships for all public services and 750 for all employers. We will also create a new skills school for about 550 young people, which will be a borough-wide centre for vocational training for 14-19 year-olds.

We are determined to innovate, for example by increasing the scale of our successful pilot in which local magistrates sentence young offenders to an apprenticeship at the local authority’s housing repairs contractor. It was resource-intensive to ensure that wraparound support from a range of agencies was available, but the initiative’s success has been considerable. Is there anything better we can do in areas of deprivation than provide people with an economic future?

New settlement of responsibilities

For local government, increasing the number of apprenticeships fits into a new settlement of responsibilities. From 2010, budgets for training those aged 16-19 will transfer from the Learning & Skills Council and we must ensure appropriate commissioning capability at a sub-regional level to meet residents’ travel-to-learn patterns and employers’ needs. We also want to establish a first-class relationship with the new National Apprenticeship Service which will serve both young people and employers.

But of course, many residents in areas of deprivation do not have the basic skills to enhance their careers when they are in work. Barking & Dagenham was the first council and local strategic partnership in the country to formally sign the government’s Skills Pledge. Hundreds of staff have received NVQs from the learning centre located at our main depot, which has been recognised by several national awards and the TUC. The council now also offers support to local businesses to join Skills for Life programmes. Importantly, these conversations are brokered through Barking & Dagenham Enterprise, an arm’s-length body commissioned by the council but led by local businesses.

We wholly endorse the principle that a significant growth in the number of apprenticeships is essential if we are to improve the lives of young people and maximise their achievement.

Our commitment to a major expansion of skills and other learning pathways for young people aged 14 plus includes six positive assessments to deliver diplomas in the following disciplines: engineering; society, health and development; creative and media; hospitality and catering; ICT; and hair and beauty. We also have Young Apprenticeship programmes in three sectors: construction; automotive engineering; and sports leadership.

Close to London 2012 and at the heart of the Thames Gateway, we also plan to maximise the potential in other sectors such as health and social care, retail, land-based industries, business administration, travel and tourism, and transportation and logistics. New forms of delivery include Barking Learning Centre, which is an innovative partnership between the council, Barking College and the University of East London to provide an integrated and progressive curriculum from entry level to postgraduate level. But as a council, we recognise that this exciting agenda needs appropriate capability to deliver it. Our new Skills, Learning & Enterprise division, part of the regeneration department, has been commissioned by the Children’s Trust and Adult Trust to create apprenticeships by using the council’s economic influence.

The last word on what we are trying to achieve best rests with Sam, one of the young apprentices working for Enterprise, our housing repairs contractor, who told us: “The youth offending team has given us a chance to do better in our lives. It stopped me getting into trouble. I am more focused now the apprenticeship will make me a changed person. Hopefully I will have a couple of businesses and it would be thanks to the council.”

We must ensure that as individual authorities, and through our regional improvement and efficiency partnerships, that we have the capacity to deliver the opportunities that apprenticeships offer our residents, our businesses and our organisations. The prize for ‘UK plc’ is as big as it gets.

Apprenticeships brought up to date

Modern apprenticeships are far more diverse than the traditional image of learning a trade as a skilled manual worker, with more than 180 on offer.

Apprentices can still train to work in expected areas such as manufacturing or becoming an electrician, but the range of training now includes fields as diverse as video production, accounting or becoming a pharmaceutical technician.

The vocational courses have no set entry requirements, although applicants must not be in full-time education.

An apprenticeship will typically last for between one and three years and lead to an NVQ at level two or three.

Apprentices must be paid at least£80 a week, with the average wage£137, rising to£187 in certain sectors such as the electro-technical industry.

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