The issue: Faced with a skills shortage apprenticeships are increasingly important to the UK and the government is reforming them with Trailblazer Apprenticeships and the Levy.
Caroline Theobald: Invited the guests to introduce themselves and outline their key issues on apprenticeships and what they hoped to get out of the debate.
Lynsey Whitehead: Said that for her the debate was not only about closing the skills gap but she also hoped that Newcastle College – which would like to position itself as the provider of apprenticeships in the North East – could learn about the issues facing the businesses around the table and how the apprenticeship reforms might affect them. She added: “We might go away with more questions than answers on that, but it’s a good topic to discuss.’’
Doug Jones: “My biggest gripe at the moment is with primary and secondary school counselling for young people – where is that, why are they coming out of secondary school without the avenue for them to pursue apprenticeships?’’
Lindsay Phillips: “With the apprenticeship levy, the demand for apprentices with the right skills will increase because large corporations will want to use their levy money. Is the North East ready for that?’’
Sarah Douglas: “My burning issue with apprenticeships is the perception of apprenticeships. It seems that young people come out of school and it’s the gold standard down the A-Level and university route but there are some amazing opportunities for young people in the North East with apprenticeships although it’s looked on as a lesser option and that’s really frustrating. I would like to see it held in the same regard as a university degree.’’
Christine Watson: Explained that Esh Group had nearly 150 apprentices in the region. She added: “But I do think we have to support the smaller businesses in the region with the red tape and the support needed to run an effective employed apprentice programme.’’
Esme Winch: Said she also wanted to look at the effect of apprenticeships changes on the smaller employer. “Because most of this will go over their heads and they won’t want to get involved and there’s a great danger in terms of entrepreneurship it won’t be taken up and that is the seed for growth in the region with our SME economy.’’
Ryan Davies: “The biggest thing for us is hiring people. We have to hire all of our programmers at university level or higher and designers we get mostly from college. Computer science isn’t taught at primary school and when you get to college it’s still
not taught at a decent level. What can we do to get more computer science and design taught at primary school level?’’ He added that another problem was that students were not aware of opportunities with SMEs in this sector.
Holly Thompson: “As technology advances digital skills become more prominent across all roles so is there a place for an increase in digital apprenticeships?’’
Rob Earnshaw: “I’m very fortunate, I’m working in the fastest growing sector [creative digital media}, in the fastest growing region in the fastest growing economy in the developed world.’’ However, he added, there was “a huge skills shortage problem’’. He continued: “How do we adopt greater IAG [information, advice and guidance] in schools and colleges?’’
Charlotte Windebank: “I believe apprentices should be more involved with their own progression routes, they should be taught how to find their own placements and while on placement I think they should be involved in the business development of that company so they can grow their contacts in the business community and the company can be represented by young people.’’
Lyndsey Britton: “It’s about keeping apprentices and graduates in the region and making them aware of the tech scene that we have here.’’ She said it was so fast paced that it could not be left to educators but that industry should be involved in helping give young people skills and getting them “career-ready’’.
Erika Marshall: Explained that Nifco had committed to take on an extra six apprentices every year but that it should be seen as a case study for SMEs to do more and also that local authorities should do more to encourage apprentices through their tenders.
Lisa Davies: Said that apprenticeships are now an alternative route into the profession, which some see as a good thing but which others regard as diluting its quality. She asked: “What could employers do which would further incentivise people to choose apprenticeships as a career path?’’
Bob Paton: “For our region to be successful we need more people in jobs. Where are those jobs going to come from? We need to look at the sectors that are doing well and we have some fantastic sectors in the region – creative, automotive, engineering, manufacturing, technology. For this region to be successful, those sectors have got to keep on growing and in order to keep on growing they need more young people with the right skills to join those sectors. How are they going to get those skills?
If we haven’t got the skills the jobs aren’t going to come, so we have got to focus on making sure we have the right skilled young people. How are we going to do that?
The schools, colleges and universities in this region do a fantastic job. What needs to be brought into the equation a lot more is that for young people to have the skills we have to marry education and business. We need more people offering careers advice and guidance, offering work experience and more people taking on apprentices. Apprenticeships are ideal for marrying education and employers. If we can create more apprenticeships in the region, this region will be successful.’’
He added that the North East topped the league table for creating apprenticeships, standing four to five percentage points above any other region for employers offering apprenticeships but that proportion was still 20%. “So there’s a massive opportunity here to win over the 8% and winning over the 8% will transform this region.’’
Caroline Theobald: Asked Bob Paton and Lindsay Phillips to explain how Dynamo had used big business networks.
Bob Paton: Said it took nine months to set up the Newcastle College apprenticeship scheme in Accenture. Successive governments had made setting up apprenticeships schemes complicated and difficult which would deter SMEs, particularly when added to the process of advertising for apprentices and interviewing candidates. There was also a lack of guidance on choosing training providers. Dynamo created an apprentice hub, modelled on a similar scheme in the construction industry, to help SMEs through those stages.
Lindsay Phillips: Said HP was in the process of reforming its apprenticeship scheme, looking at Level 3 and 4 and degree apprenticeships to allow for the development of apprentices. “It takes a lot of time and effort and, if you are an SME, I can’t believe that time and effort exists, so there need to be vehicles to support SMEs through this.’’ He argued that training providers should be “industry ready’’ in terms of provision, allowing an SME to choose a course rather than having to reinvent one, while still recognising that every SME had different requirements.
Caroline Theobald: Posed the question: if young people were not being given careers advice at an earlier age, was it too late by the time they reached college?
Esme Winch: Agreed that advice should be given earlier when choices about which subjects to study were being made.
Lyndsey Britton: Said there was a gap in training after code clubs at primary schools. She also said it was important to teach coding at an earlier age.
Sarah Douglas: Emphasised the importance of a connection between what is taught at school and the jobs available.
Doug Jones: “Is there currently any flexibility within the curriculum to make people aware of apprenticeships or at least the opportunities available?’’
Esme Winch: Said the latest government announcement allowed for training providers to go into schools to promote apprenticeships.
Rob Earnshaw: Said that schools were advising students to stay on to do A-Levels.
Sarah Douglas: Agreed, pointing out that schools received funding for students in sixth form so they are pointed in that direction.
Rob Earnshaw: Described how his business had recruited someone on a £14,500 apprenticeship but the school had advised them to return to do their A-levels. “There’s nothing wrong with doing your A Levels but when you want to be in marketing and are going to land a £14,500 a year job and are being told you have to go back to school, that’s a huge problem.’’
Erika Marshall: “Another problem is that parents don’t have the knowledge that they need.’’ She explained that parents had an outdated view of apprenticeships.
Lindsay Phillips: “I think that perception is starting to change. Some of the apprentices we have have made a conscious choice not to go to university. They are very capable people who could well go to university but they don’t want to be saddled with the debt, they want to earn money now and they want in three years’ time, having done their Level 3, potentially Level 4 apprenticeship as well, to be in a better position than their peers at school would have been if they had gone to university, both financially and from a security point of view. One of the things that’s clear to me is that apprenticeships are starting to become an attractive option instead of university.’’ He added that the focus on apprentices was to be welcomed but would put pressure on other sectors and universities would suffer.
Caroline Theobald: Asked whether there was any equivalent to code clubs in other sectors and whether any work was being done to change perceptions.
Christine Watson: Said that there were certain roles Esh found it difficult to recruit for. For example, they found that students in schools had never heard about quantity surveying. She added: “We have to educate and keep the teaching staff aware of the wide range of roles within construction.’’
Bob Paton: Argued that successive governments were responsible for the perception problem for promoting university education and now there was an attempt at correcting that imbalance. The economy of the 1940s and 1950s was easier to understand and people could see where the jobs were. The devolution agreement signed in October presented an opportunity allowing for an education and training system that matched the region’s economy.
Charlotte Windebank: “I think the way to really engage young people is for them to have ownership over their own progression routes.’’ She added that the days of the paper CV were over and networking should be mandatory for every 16-year-old.
Caroline Theobald: “If devolution gives the region the opportunity to design its own curriculum that’s going to be one way to take control.’’
Bob Paton: Said a request to have control over the curriculum had been denied. He added: “Each young person should get a number of different exposures to different industries to help them mould their thoughts. If a young person has exposure to five employers or industries, they are 80% less likely to be a NEET [not in education, employment or training].’’
Ryan Davies: Said there was an onus on companies to let young people know what they did and what opportunities were available.
Rob Earnshaw: Said his business, partnering with Accenture and Tech North, was staging an exhibition called Get Digital, on 17 March, of the region’s leading media companies to introduce them to suppliers and job seekers and it would include the careers guidance organisation the Gatsby Foundation. “There’s no reason why these sector specific industry events can’t be replicated in other sectors. Now, more than ever, we as a private sector do have to take control of our own skills shortage problem and work with the public sector.’’
Caroline Theobald: Said staging similar events could be an action point for other sectors represented at the debate.
Doug Jones: Said Tech North was putting on an event for employers to engage with young people on 18 March in Leeds.
Lisa Davies: Said apprenticeships were unheard of in the legal sector until recently and in the past apprenticeships at Ward Hadaway has always been in business administration. There were mixed views of legal apprenticeships.
“In order to sell it we’ve gone down the route of piloting it internally to show that it can work and it can work in areas where there aren’t a lot of contentious matters such as property where there is a lot of transactional work and where there’s a strong commercial benefit to having a different structure and at the moment that’s proving to be very successful. For a lot of lawyers the jury’s still out and they are not sure whether it’s going to dilute the profession. For me, it enhances it.’’ She said it was good for the perception of apprenticeships.
Lindsay Phillips: “Within your business, do you have role models who have come through the apprentice route who are now successful?’’
Lisa Davies: Said apprenticeships were too recent in the profession but there were examples of individuals who had taken alternative routes. The firm had spent a lot of time networking with universities and engaging with young people.
Caroline Theobald: Said that if the target of three million apprentices by 2020 was going to be achieved businesses of every size in every sector would need to take on apprentices.
Bob Paton: “The government wants to push as many higher level apprenticeships as it can. They are expecting 30% of degrees will be degree apprenticeships.’’
Lindsay Phillips: “There’s a bit of a feeding frenzy at the moment in terms of lots of organisations competing for what that degree apprenticeship will look like, which confuses things.’’
Holly Thompson: Said that for several years Newcastle College had delivered traditional frameworks for apprenticeships and was now moving towards delivering the new Trailblazer standards for which there was currently a consultation process. The college was working closely with tech partnerships on those standards. She added: “They are much more specific, have much more bespoke options and are a lot simpler for employers to understand. We want to take the pain out of apprenticeships from an employer’s point of view.’’
Esme Winch: “The old standards were very simple, you did a tech certification in a college for which you got a qualification, plus your English and maths plus your work experience. In a Trailblazer it’s much more free form. It’s what the employers want, which is great if you’re an employer, and it’s great if you are a big employer, because if you come out with an HP apprenticeship or a Ward Hadaway apprenticeship that’s great but what about the SMEs, Joe Bloggs back street motor mechanic? How does that learner, in their CV have that currency going forward in their career with such a proliferation of different models, at different levels for different employers?
As a future employer, what are you taking for granted in that qualification?’’ She added that in the new frameworks there could be no assessment except on the job or by a new employer and an apprentice would not necessarily come out with a qualification.
Lisa Davies: “The implication is that the training standard you have received is going to be much more specific.’’
Esme Winch: “If you come out with a Rolls Royce apprenticeship then you know what you are doing in engineering but not every employer is Rolls-Royce. What about the rest?’’
Erika Marshall: Said it would be like the old university scenario with the contrast between a degree from Oxford or a “mickey mouse degree’’ from Macclesfield.
Holly Thompson: Said it required a minimum of 10 employers to develop a Trailblazer standard and a wider consultation had to be demonstrated and the standard itself created a set of core competencies which had to be assessed against. “It’s much more towards employer-led skills rather than a suite of qualifications.’’
Esme Winch: “But there will be thousands and thousands of standards.’’
Bob Paton: “I think that is a real worry.’’
Lynsey Whitehead: Said the shortlist already fills five A4 sheets. It’s complicated. We’ve moved it on in term of making it more relevant to employers but the complexity is still there.’’
Lindsay Phillips: “If it’s that complicated for us to understand, if you’re 16 or 18 it’s a nightmare and it’s that entry point that’s really important. Once you’ve got your qualification, your currency is not what you’ve achieved in terms of a piece of paper, it’s how you operate and how you create mobility through your career.’’
Esme Winch: Argued that in many traditional areas such as retail or health and social care the qualification was important.
Bob Paton: Said a mixture of graduates and apprentices was needed.
Caroline Theobald: “Do companies want apprentices?’’
Erika Marshall: “Of our senior management team, until recently, 11 out of 13 were former apprentices and that’s what we want going forward. We’ve just taken on another batch of apprentices across all disciplines.’’ She added that it had been a big mistake for schools to give up work experience placements.
Bob Paton: Agreed on the importance of work experience.
Christine Watson: “We genuinely want apprentices. We need young people coming into our ageing workforce.’’ She said Esh’s apprentices were offered careers and the size of the company allowed them to be moved across disciplines and they have shared apprentice programmes.
Lyndsey Britton: “It makes sense that companies should want apprentices but not a lot of them do. First, it’s hard to find them, even for the selection process they don’t
have time. Also if they are looking to grow their team I think they would look to recruit and develop someone who can hit the ground running and who knows what they are doing.’’
Rob Earnshaw: “There’s a huge misconception that apprentices are a burden.’’
Charlotte Windebank: Said that young people were capable of more than they
were credited with, particularly in the field of social media.
Sarah Douglas: “It’s not about qualifications, it’s about attitude and behaviour.’’
Rob Earnshaw: “If someone has the right attitude you can teach them the skills.’’
Sarah Douglas: “Do you think the labour market information that is fed into schools to say where our growth sectors and jobs of the future are is good enough for people to make an informed choice about their career?’’
Bob Paton: Said several local authorities were trying to do it and that a North East Combined Authority could do it and identify where the vacancies were. He said 35,000 people were working in the technology sector and that there were 2,000 vacancies. He added: “The more jobs are filled, the more jobs we create.’’
Rob Earnshaw: Said that about 20% of people in the technology sector were female. “Half our population don’t see tech as a career path. Do more males than females take up apprenticeships?’’
Lindsay Phillips: “We see the same dynamics in terms of gender balance, at graduate level and at apprentice level. It’s an industry trend. If anything, we see better gender balance at graduate level than apprenticeship level.’’
Caroline Theobald: Asked whether in the automotive supply chain and in construction there was the same level of collaboration as in other sectors.
Bob Paton: Referred to the automotive alliance and Christine Watson to the Constructing Industry Training Board.
Caroline Theobald: Asked Esme Winch if she had an overview of all sectors.
Esme Winch: “There’s such a proliferation of apprenticeships now that I probably don’t. There’s still some concern about the lower levels – 2s and 3s – at an older age group [aged above 25 and in work] in some industries. I do think the tech industry is slightly different.’’ She added that apprenticeships could be for those already in work and that they would count towards the government’s three million target.
Lindsay Phillips: “It’s also about retraining and reskilling.’’
Caroline Theobald: Asked about the public sector.
Sarah Douglas: Said Gateshead Council had about 62 apprenticeships in a workforce of about 8,000 and the council used to take on 30 apprentices every year just in business administration. The Levy would have big implications and she predicted that, in the face of redundancies, the trend would be to give apprenticeships to existing employees.
Caroline Theobald: Asked about the Apprenticeship Levy which would be
imposed on businesses with a payroll of more than £3m.
Esme Winch: Said it would present an opportunity to redefine skills needs and how staff could be used differently and reskilled.
Bob Paton: Said the final information on the Levy would not be released until this year’s Autumn Statement which would present a challenge as the Levy would be introduced the following April.
Lindsay Phillips: Pointed out that this would present large businesses with budgeting problems.
Christine Watson: “The devil will be in the detail and we need that detail, we need that clarity.’’
Lindsay Phillips: Said that any business which has operations in Scotland cannot use Levy money to pay for apprentices in Scotland. He added: “The Apprenticeship Levy will drive a higher volume of apprentices across business and it will create competition between different educational streams and corporations may choose to hire more apprentices than graduates as a consequence and it will put pressure on other areas of the educational economy. I’m now flipping from hiring predominantly graduates to a point where next year I will hire more apprentices than graduates.’’
Caroline Theobald: “This is about the future of young people. What about the youngsters?’’
Rob Earnshaw: “It’s so confusing and we need clear role models in schools and colleges.’’
Doug Jones: Said companies such as Nissan, which could bring on large numbers of young people, should be at the debate.
Bob Paton: Said existing apprentices, who young people could relate to, were the best role models.
Lyndsay Phillips: Advocated lobbying for every apprentice spending time back in school talking about their apprenticeship.
Rob Earnshaw: Said there should be a young person’s apprenticeship network to be ambassadors in schools.
Esme Winch: Said it would be up to employers to write that into their apprenticeship programmes.
Caroline Theobald: Pointed out that the schools had to be willing to take the apprentices in.
Lyndsay Phillips: Said there was too much demand from schools to cope with. Others agreed.
Esme Winch: Suggested a webinar or phone-in.
Caroline Theobald: “That is a great idea, particularly for SMEs.’’
Lyndsey Britton: “That’s a great idea for us. We would not be taking up a lot of people’s time where they have to leave their desk to go out to schools.’’
Caroline Theobald: Asked what Newcastle College was doing to make it easier for employers to find apprentices.
Lynsey Whitehead: “It’s really disappointing that there are employers out there who don’t know where to go. We take all that away from the employer at no cost, we take the job description, we advertise the vacancies and we find them potential apprentices.’’
Lisa Davies: Described a pilot scheme in Ward Hadaway’s Manchester office putting the same effort into promoting apprenticeships as trainees.
Bob Paton: “We are fortunate in being the only industrialised region where we can reach out to every school, college and university and to every employer both big and small. That’s one massive advantage we’ve got.’’ He added: “I suspect a lot of people’s biggest influence are their parents.’’
Lynsey Whitehead: Suggested an email group support network to share ideas and questions to stay in touch. She added: “I’ve certainly found tonight really useful.’’
Caroline Theobald: “And that is it, it’s been fascinating – so thank you Newcastle College and thank you all for coming.’’