6 April 2017 Feature

Skills: local supply and demand

Many employers recruit from outside their local area or from overseas because local people don’t offer the skills - working together with local educators could help bridge the gap


The business perspective

NG Bailey head of group learning and development Frank Clayton

We’re a mechanical and electrical contractor, but we also need facilities skills and IT skills, which is a particular challenge because of the pace with which the market moves. One of the nice things about the advent of apprenticeship standards is that staffing the IT and digital space seems to be where employers have been busiest. This year will see us taking on our first four infrastructure technician apprentices for our IT services business.

One significant part of the business is structured cabling. As a skillset, there isn’t enough content there to develop an apprenticeship or formal qualification, so we’ve worked with an external supplier to develop an in-house training programme to help people become structured cabling engineers. It’s great – apart from the fact that the minute you train them, somebody else takes them off your hands.

I’ve been working to develop a 'triple helix' approach, which is about employers, educators and legislators having input

With the infrastructure technicians, we’ll benchmark the salary and part of the programme will be discussions about what happens when you finish the apprenticeship so that they’ve got a view of their career pathway. So competitors who wait for our trainees to graduate and then steal them are suddenly going to find themselves in scope of the levy. So we hope that over the next few years we’ll see a helpful change in behaviour.

As of this year our apprenticeship programme offers 14 different qualifications, and we have relationships with 10 colleges across the UK so that apprentices can be trained locally to where they live and work. But if I employ mechanical apprentices in our Birmingham, Bristol of Reading offices, they have to come to Leeds to be trained, because there’s no local provision. I have to budget for their accommodation, which works out at a substantial amount.

For some years now I’ve been working with people across the district to develop a ‘triple helix approach’, which is about employers, educators and legislators having input. A lot of careers-advice-bashing goes on but employers have a role to play in supporting what goes on in schools and vice versa, to give kids the tools and skills they need to be employable – one hand washes the other.

But locally within construction, and this may be true of other industries, we don’t play well together, by offering people experience in other organisations. But the people that lose from that are those of us in construction.


The educator’s perspective

UEA degree apprenticeship manager Sharon Davies

UEA works with employers from local SMEs to large multinational organisations, engaging with local networks and hosting regular events. The employability of our students is important to UEA and we work closely with employers to ensure that our graduates have the skills that they will need to succeed in their chosen profession.

We provide our students with opportunities to engage with business while undertaking their studies, for example, students on UEA’s Actuarial Science degrees are partly taught by actuaries from Aviva. Degree apprenticeships will provide a further opportunity to ensure that students have the skills employers really want.

UEA was recently approved by the Government as a provider of degree apprenticeships, and is on the register of apprenticeship training providers (RoATP). We are working with employers to understand what they need in terms of course content, and whether they want to upskill their existing workforce or recruit to new or hard-to-fill vacancies.

We expect to increase the breadth of our degree apprenticeship offer as the many apprenticeship standards currently being developed are approved 

UEA will focus on providing Bachelors and Masters level apprenticeships in strongly vocational subject areas, and where there is significant demand from employers. Computing Science is an important sector locally – Norwich is a well established member of the Tech City UK Cluster Alliance – and UEA is working closely with these employers to develop a degree apprenticeship that meets their needs.

We are also working with businesses to explore how we can support them with degree apprenticeships in areas like Strategic Leadership, Engineering, and Education, and plan to offer a wide range of apprenticeships in Health Sciences over the next few years.

The University aims to have its first degree apprenticeships in place by 2018, and we expect to increase the breadth of the offer substantially as the many apprenticeship standards that are currently being developed are approved by the new Institute for Apprenticeships.

In addition to engaging with the new apprenticeship agenda, UEA is helping to bridge the skills gap in other ways. We offer many students the chance to spend a year or a summer working in industry, and have an established programme of paid internships run by our careers service. This has proved to be a great success, with 91 per cent of graduate interns telling us that their internship helped them secure their current job.


The employee’s perspective

Building services engineer (BSE) design apprentice William Windsor

My role as a BSE design apprentice involves working within the design team on a range of projects. I am currently working on a project in Scotland where I am responsible for creating computer models of the rooms in a four-storey office block and calculating the lighting requirements. Previously I have worked on designs involving data cables, containment and the placement of emergency lighting and sign services.

Unfortunately the university style of learning wasn’t for me

I wanted to do my apprenticeship with NG Bailey because it’s a respected company and has trained apprentices over the years. I chose an apprenticeship after trying university - unfortunately the style of learning wasn’t for me. I learn better in a more hands-on environment. It’s a fantastic opportunity I’m excited to be a part of - I would immediately recommend it. 


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