When you Google ‘apprentice’, the face of Alan Sugar scowls out from every search! The Apprentice has been on our screens since February 2005 putting unfortunate job candidates through the wringer. But the truth about apprenticeships is very different. Over two million people are getting a qualification on the job, learning in practice rather than in theory what their industry needs. I met up with Beth Penwarden, the Council officer responsible for the Southwark Apprenticeship Standard and asked her a few questions about apprenticeships in Southwark.
So what makes an apprenticeship work?
“It’s really a partnership that creates a positive apprenticeship,” says Beth. “The training offers a means to flourish and succeed for people who are better suited to a more practical route to development. With the quality training providers we have in Southwark, we know the learning on the job as well as the day each week in college will deliver high quality learning. But in the end the apprentice relies on an organised and supportive employer who can offer a range of challenges appropriate to their stage of development. So a partnership of apprentice, employer and training provider needs to come together to release the potential from each apprentice.”
“…Employers can help people to re-join the workforce or who want to take a work-related qualification whilst continuing to work by creating a mid-career apprenticeship for them…”
How did you get involved in this programme?
“When I came to write my Masters’ dissertation, I studied the successful multi-agency model of the Southwark Anti-Violence Unit,” explained Beth. “The results were very good and I got to know the team here and admired their culture of innovation. When this job came up, I saw it as a way to pursue my passion for education as a route to mobility. There was already a well-established internal apprenticeship scheme in the Council so we already had great buy-in from managers and our direct supply chain. The new job though was all about delivering on a Labour 2014 manifesto pledge to deliver 2,000 apprenticeships across the borough by 2018. It’s a challenge but we are making great progress!”
So how has the Standard been developing?
“I walked into a scheme that already provided the infrastructure, real political commitment and a strong momentum for further development,” said Beth. “In my first few months, I brought together the final elements of the new Southwark Apprenticeship Standard so we could launch it in March last year. We now have 24 partners, supporters and champions for the Standard; some are partners such as PwC and the Greater London Authority who can offer apprenticeships that meet the Standard themselves. Others are supporters who are working toward the Standard. That often means they are bringing their pay scales into line so they are able to pay apprentices the London Living Wage, a key part of the Standard. And then our champions are those agencies such as Business Improvement Districts and the voluntary sector who are advocates for more Southwark organisations to offer quality apprenticeships for local people.”
“…they are bringing their pay scales into line so they are able to pay apprentices the London Living Wage, a key part of the Standard…”
How do you promote apprenticeships in Southwark?
“Really we’ve focused on the four elements of the Standard and encouraged more businesses – large and small – to take up the opportunities quality apprenticeships offer,” explained Beth. “The four elements of the Standard are: a minimum contract of 12 months, payment of the London Living Wage, quality training provision and effective mentoring and support. We’ve been working with existing apprenticeship schemes to promote them to local candidates and helped to improve established schemes to work toward the Standard. We’ve just appointed a new staff member to support small- and medium-sized businesses to take on apprentices and working with Southwark Works, we’ve also been able to provide a service to support local candidates to understand what employers are looking for when recruiting apprentices. In all these ways, we are working to make more quality apprenticeships available to Southwark residents.”
So what are your plans for the next phase of the Standard?
“We want to tackle the perception that apprenticeships are not as demanding as other development routes. Secondary schools are increasingly supportive of apprenticeships; that will now allow us to see trends but there is still a great deal to do with schools to persuade parents and teachers that quality apprenticeships are really valuable. The London Ambitions Portal is a new initiative from the Mayor’s Office to bring teachers and employers closer together around the career options available to young people. We also support apprenticeships for older people such as Barclays Older Apprenticeship scheme. Employers can help people to re-join the workforce or who want to take a work-related qualification whilst continuing to work by creating a mid-career apprenticeship for them. We will be supporting the government’s Get In Go Far campaign in the autumn. It will promote apprenticeships to young people and their parents. And in November we are planning an event where our partners can sign up to the Southwark Apprenticeship Standard and make a formal commitment to quality opportunities for their apprentices.”
Are you an employer interested in taking on an apprentice? Or would you like to become an apprentice yourself? Contact the Local Economy Team at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more