Blazing a trail for real work experience

By John Kerr, Operations Director, Develop Training

As their name suggests, Trailblazer Apprenticeships are a dramatic new angle on workplace learning.

As specialists in training for the utilities sector, you will not be surprised to learn that Develop Training is a passionate advocate for vocational training.

As a result we are actively getting to grips with Trailblazer Apprenticeships as the newest addition to the wide range of apprentice, NVQ and other training programmes we provide, and we continue to encourage employers to establish apprenticeships by offering specialist advice and support.

Although I have been in the training business for close on a decade, I learned in my previous role at Advantica, part of British Gas, the importance of real world training to develop people with the skills needed to keep utilities running.

I have always believed that apprenticeships make sense. We need them to give people real world skills to do real world work. Without criticising universities or degrees, the academic route is not the way forward for everyone. It’s good to see government and society at large acknowledging that fact after a period where it sometimes seemed everyone was pushed towards the higher education route for the sake of it.

Apprenticeships are creating jobs for people, which is great, and they are jobs that are really worth doing, keeping gas, water and electricity flowing around the country, for example. They are also giving a path to real, fulfilling, worthwhile work for young people who in some cases might be left behind by purely academic schooling.

This, of course, is what employers want. In the industries where we provide training, there is no spectre of unemployment. Instead, we are facing a fairly frightening jobs crisis. To keep the utilities running, which also means to keep Britain running, we need thousands of young people to come to work.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is a huge shortage of young people looking for jobs, at least when it comes to working in what are sometimes perceived as glamour-less industries.

While unemployment among 16-24 year olds is at 16 per cent – that’s nearly three quarters of a million people – there is a golden opportunity to provide job opportunities in the utilities sector. It’s estimated the power, gas, water and waste management industries will need 200,000 new recruits in the UK within eight years to replace an ageing workforce.

Of course, out of work young people can’t just step into the shoes of experienced operatives. They need skills, and the closer aligned those skills are to the job they have to do, the better, which is where Trailblazer Apprenticeships should hit the spot.

At present, apprenticeships are run by colleges and private training providers who deliver  the qualifications, with work experience provided by employers signed up to the scheme. Trailblazer apprenticeships will be different. Now the company providing the work experience will shape each apprentice’s curriculum. This means that real world jobs will be even more closely aligned to real world training.

We will have to wait and see how successful they are, but the principle looks sound.

Cliché though it may be, there is no substitute for experience.

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