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Charlie Mullins: Apprenticeships work if your staff use a wrench or a keyboard

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Last week I welcomed Priti Patel MP, the employment minister, to Pimlico Plumbers where we hosted a conference for the 5% Club, a campaign to encourage businesses to have five percent of their workforce made up by apprentices.

Priti and her government colleagues have done a fantastic job to support apprenticeships – and their commitment to deliver three million apprenticeships starts in England by 2020 will go a long way to increase the opportunities for young people and address the skills challenges faced by UK employers.

She spoke with passion about how apprenticeships offer young people the chance to reach their potential, achieve a successful career and keep earning. She also made the important point that apprenticeships provide the higher-level technical skills employers need to improve productivity.

It was great to hear and her message has to resonate with young people and employers up and down the country and pick up the pace and perception of change. 

For too long apprenticeships were seen as a second-class route into a career for those who couldn’t make it on the academic route of further and higher education.

Thankfully that perception has shifted quite a bit and we have seen the upturn in young people wanting to do apprenticeships and within industries companies are recognising that the model is the best way for them to discover, nurture and develop talented workers.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve not reached the “promised land” yet. There is a big desert to cross and on that journey we need to get more employers to join our caravan. 

As an aside, these businesses should include firms up in the North East where there are a group of young people who need help. Fifty apprentices lost their jobs when the steel plant in Redcar shut down. These apprentices need employers to come forward and take them on. There’s even a pot of government cash to help. It’s a no brainer, if you can, take these kids on.

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Anyway, back to what I was saying. As you would expect, as a plumber, my priority is to get more skilled tradesmen through the apprenticeship route, but I recognise that the apprenticeship model of professionally-verified assessment of skills gained on-the-job, matched with recognised qualifications that relate directly to the profession is applicable pretty much across the board.

It doesn’t matter if an employee uses a wrench and spanner or a mouse and keyboard, if the apprenticeship model will have a greater benefit to the individual and the business rather than plucking someone off the college and university conveyor belt then, for me, there’s only one choice.

As Patel said at Pimlico, “Employers have a vested interest in making sure the next generation of workers has the skills to succeed. You know what works best for your business and the sort of talent you need to thrive.”

So, the message is clear. If you run a business and you have any sort of focus on the future, apprenticeships are the answer. Not only do they develop skills, they also breed loyalty and buy-in to company ethos, which has a significant impact staff motivation and the quality of service offered to customers.

Perhaps then the 5% club will become the 50% club and the army of Osborne’s apprentices will lead this country forward.

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