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From roofing apprentice to British Chambers of Commerce president

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As part of National Apprenticeship Week, Real Business attended an event that heard from apprenticeship ambassador for parliament Andrew Jones and skills minister Nick Boles, both of whom discussed the “need for skills within our workforce” and “heart” apprentices can bring to a business.

Nora Senior, president of the British Chambers of Commerce offered her own words of wisdom and told SMEs in the room they “may be a little bit surprised to learn I started out as roof tiling apprentice.”

She went on to joke that “the skills learned during that part of my career served me very well as I’ve ended up as a chair of a global communications company. But if all else goes badly, I’ve always got skills to fall back on.”

The business leader offered four key figures and three points to help rally small businesses and make it clear the risks they are taking by not embracing youngsters.

1. 39 per cent of BCC members have taken on an apprentices

2. 32 per cent are considering taking on an apprentice in the future

3. 44 per cent – SMEs in particular – have taking on apprentices as part of five-year growth plan.

4. 54 per cent said additional funding for training would encourage them to consider employing apprentices

“British Chambers is actively looking to ensure that the £1,500 pounds apprenticeship grant for employers is extended beyond its 2016 deadline,” Senior revealed. “Chambers throughout the country can often act as the front door to help any SME who’s not yet taken on an apprentice – many are running programmes, looking at skills audits for companies who want to take on an apprentice.”

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Support includes looking at specific skills gaps within a company and working with the likes of the National Apprenticeship Service and Apprenticemakers to produce the right fit between requirements and individuals.

She added: “You’ll be able to work with training providers to map out a suitable training programme, because the one thing we have heard from SMEs is that they do not have the time or resources to do the interview, training programmes and then carry out the actual training itself.”

Elsewhere, the BCC is working with the NAS on a series of events, one of which is called How Apprenticeships Can Benefit Your Business. “Although that’s not the snappiest title, it is actually what it says on the tin. There are a number of businesses who will give you their life experiences on how their businesses have grown and benefitted from taking on a young person, and you have the opportunity to ask questions,” Senior explained.

Closing her round of advice, Senior gave businesses something to think about. “One final thought. I was in Stoke the other week, an area which is renowned for ceramics and pottery – in fact, it’s a global industry. But in the recession between 2008 and 2012, they decided that they would stop recruiting, so they held onto experienced senior members of staff, but they didn’t recruit because they didn’t want to add to their cost base.

“They now recognise that over 30 per cent of the senior experienced workforce is just about to retire, so they have nobody to hand that knowledge on to. That is why, unless they do something very quickly, that industry will go from a global business and shrink very rapidly because they’ve not passed that knowledge on.

“I do think apprentices will not only make you happy, it will make the individual happy. I think as businesses, we should be deeply conscious as we have a responsibility to look how we engage with young people, with apprentices, in order to safeguard talents for the future.”

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