How to harness the power of apprenticeships

Adele Weaver, Head of Learning and Development at Bruntwood

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This year’s National Apprenticeship Week aims to shine a spotlight on those who are ‘blazing a trail’ in the apprenticeship world. It’s a timely opportunity for employers to review their current approach to apprenticeships and consider how they can enhance and improve what they already have in place.

Harnessed in the right way, apprenticeships have the power to transform individual lives, businesses and, ultimately, our regional and national economies.

At Bruntwood, apprentices play an invaluable role in ensuring we have access to the skills we require now and in the future. We have a total of 19 apprentices in the business currently, representing 2.4% of our overall workforce – and we’re building on this, with a new intake of apprentices scheduled for September 2019. Our apprenticeship programme operates across our regional offices in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Cheshire, providing training and development opportunities for the next generation of professionals in the property industry.

We know that the most successful apprenticeship schemes offer a range of benefits on both sides of the employer/apprenticeship equation, they are not altruistic exercises. But how do you maximise the positive impact of an apprenticeship programme? Ensuring a strong link between skills and need is essential.

Businesses need to identify where their skills gaps lie and develop apprenticeships aimed specifically at plugging these gaps and future-proofing their talent supply. For Bruntwood, this means offering apprenticeship courses across a broad range of areas, from facilities, maintenance and engineering to digital marketing, surveying and finance; always with clear routes to progression and promotion mapped out. Whatever they choose to specialise in, we’ve found our apprentices to be talented and passionate individuals who are helping us to tackle outdated perceptions of what apprenticeships look like and who they’re aimed at.

Apprentices can join us at any stage in their career – a recent work experience candidate has gone on to secure an apprenticeship in network engineering with us, for instance and is now an unofficial mentor to a current work experience student. Elsewhere, we’ve welcomed Zoe, an apprentice who, after 20 years in industry has taken the opportunity to retrain as an electrician in our Birmingham office.

It’s important to remember that, as well being a source of brand-new talent for a business, apprenticeships can open up new opportunities for existing employees too – enabling personal development and allowing an organisation to nurture future specialists from within. Take the example of Rob, who started with us in our Liverpool office in 2017 as a facilities team member and decided to develop new expertise by moving into a plumbing and heating apprentice role. Rob is due to finish his course this year.

On a wider economic level, the commercial sector must continue to work closely with government and education to tackle regional and national skills gaps through apprenticeships. Only by having a constantly replenished, rich Northern talent pool in place can we attract the types of investors who will help to propel the region’s economic success forward. Engaging apprentices themselves to drive the apprenticeship agenda in the region is essential and we’ve been delighted to see one of Bruntwood’s apprentices volunteering to sit on the Northern Powerhouse Apprentice Panel, to act as an ambassador for apprenticeship power.

By delivering successful apprenticeship programmes, providing opportunities and support, in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Cheshire, we are helping to achieve Bruntwood’s mission of creating thriving cities. Apprenticeships feature prominently on every city agenda these days and the apprentices we nurture at Bruntwood feed into a wider regional talent pool, enriching the economic lifeblood of our cities and helping to provide the right skills in the right places.

Optimising the apprenticeship levy to ensure training funds have as wide a reach as possible can also help to boost apprenticeship impact. At Bruntwood, we’ve made use of the opportunity to donate 10% of our annual levy funds to supply chain businesses, enabling them to take on their own apprentices. When this increases this year to 25%, we’ll again look for opportunities to take advantage of this and support at least another apprentice in our communities.

Engaging with and supporting our supply chain partners is a key part of our strategy and we recently worked with commercial design and fit out company, Dragonfly to enable their business to access the benefits presented by the University of Salford’s degree apprenticeship programme. This coincided with the launch of our own degree apprenticeship programme, delivered in partnership with the University to enable employees to access degree-level training in Chartered Surveying.

We’re constantly looking at new ways to evolve our apprenticeship offering and National Apprenticeship Week will provide an opportunity to see what others are doing to blaze a trail in this regard. Going forward, we hope to see more SME businesses, like those in our supply chain, taking advantage of apprenticeships – now that small business apprenticeship fees are going to halve from 10% to 5%. And we also hope that the introduction of T Levels in 2020 will help to provide a vocational stepping stone to apprenticeships, encouraging wider uptake.

By investing time and effort into our apprenticeship programme we’ve unearthed some of the smartest, most astute and hard-working people in our business, and we look forward to opening doors for many more.

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