Is it time for an apprenticeship rebrand?

With their origins traceable back to the Middle Ages, apprenticeships are among the oldest qualifications in the world.

Historically thought of as a ‘route for someone else’s child’, are attitudes to apprenticeships stuck in the Middle Ages and is it time for a rebrand?

Our Education Secretary Damien Hinds certainly thinks so. In January, Mr Hinds launched the ‘Fire it Up’ campaign with a mission to banish the ‘outdated and snobbish’ attitudes towards apprenticeships.

With a five-year target of 3 million people embarking on a vocational qualification by 2020, the clock is ticking for the Government, who have now brought in the big guns - tasking the world revered ad agency M&C Saatchi with the job of relaunching their beleaguered apprenticeship programme and driving more people down the apprenticeship route.

March 4 – 8 is National Apprenticeship Week – an opportunity to shout about the fantastic opportunities that an apprenticeship brings to employers, individuals and the economy.

Personally – I’m a huge advocate of apprenticeships, and the housing sector has for a long time recognised the benefits that such on-the-job training routes can bring. The Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) for example have a commitment with our contractors to create one apprentice for every £1m contract, and as we accelerate our building programme our ambition is to create more than 1,000 new apprenticeships.

The value of apprenticeships are well recognised within the housing sector, but there’s still more that can be done and we have a key role to play in dispelling the myths that apprenticeships are just a second class degree – they’re in fact a steadfast route to qualifications and a solid career.

And while the Government pushes on with its challenge to change attitudes, I believe the tide is already turning.

If I’d asked my parents back in the 1980s what an apprenticeship meant, they would have said it was something you did if you weren’t academically gifted enough to go to university - a way to learn a trade and a skill.

But fast forward 30 years and the whole landscape has changed. University education is no longer the privilege of the gifted, it’s something, if you’re prepared and able to pay for it, that’s open to all.

And the perceived advantages of having a university degree are not as apparent as they once were. Obviously the old ‘Red Brick’ universities still hold their prestige, and if you’re pursuing a career in medicine for example, then university is your pathway, but I’d argue that today, employers would rather see evidence that you’ve invested in yourself rather than a piece of paper from a former ‘poly tech’.

Coupled with the thousands of pounds of debt that graduates today are saddled with – the earn as you learn route is fast becoming the desirable option, with the career opportunities and earning potential apprenticeships bring, on an even keel with the academic route. Some recent studies showing lifetime earnings for certain apprenticeships are in fact higher than that of graduates.

And it’s not just an attractive proposition for the employee – the employer gets a great deal too. Fresh ideas, energy, enthusiasm, and for the housing sector - the chance to create opportunities for people living in our communities that may otherwise be out of their reach.

My own dad was an apprentice electrician in the 1960s and as an A-Level drop-out myself, I was so grateful that someone took a chance on me as a green-behind-the-ears 17-year old and offered me a job as a junior accounts clerk.

It was 1987 and I was basically the photocopy lad, but I had a clear training pathway ahead of me, and by the age of 23 I was the youngest in my year to qualify as a Chartered Accountant. It got me to where I wanted to be far quicker than a university education would have.

I know first-hand the value of apprenticeships, which is why at Salix Homes we are passionate about providing people, young and old, male and female, with that lucky break they need to get their careers on track with an organisation that is prepared to invest in them.

From a female plasterer now running her own business, to a first-time dad building a future for his family, the apprentice success stories at Salix Homes are plentiful, and in the past three years alone, we’ve created more than 50 apprenticeship positions, both within the organisation and through our partner contractors.

But we can and will do more.

Currently 4% of our workforce are part of an apprenticeship or on-the-job training pathway; I want that figure increased to 5% and it’s something I’d like to see mirrored across the housing sector.

As an industry, we have the chance to build our workforce of the future – providing opportunities far beyond the stereotypical building and trade apprenticeships of years gone by. We need to broaden the offer to incorporate Finance, ICT, HR and communications roles attracting both those entering the job market for the first time or older people who want to retrain and develop new skills.

This week a new apprenticeship fund was launched in Salford and Salix Homes is proud to be a part of it.

The Salford Skills For Business Apprenticeship Fund will invest in apprenticeship training within small to medium sized organisations to help create more quality and sustainable apprenticeship roles for Salford residents.

The initiative aims to unlock new talent and close the skills gap in the city thanks to partners like ourselves releasing funds from our apprenticeship training levy to help other organisations create apprentice roles.

It’s another positive step in the right direction and a great asset for Salford.

National Apprenticeship Week is the perfect opportunity for us to fly the flag for the benefits of an apprenticeship in housing. Who’s with me?