Like many people, I'm always alert to mentions of my hometown in the news and living close to the Rural Capital of Food, references tend to be of a culinary nature. So I was interested to read that entrepreneur and founder of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, is an advocate of raising the reputation of 'British Apprenticeships' by giving the term something akin to protected food name status, just like the ubiquitous Melton Mowbray pork pie.
The Government announcement of the apprenticeship levy in last year's budget prompted a celebratory Mr Mullins to applaud the move which he felt would give 'British Apprenticeships' a value akin to champagne, Parma ham or my local pie-crust favourite.
Of course, Charlie is right to welcome the Government's commitment to create 3 million apprenticeship opportunities. National Apprenticeship Week earlier this month was a reminder, not only of the value of apprenticeships to the UK economy, but why they're a great route for training and a successful professional career.
Earning a crust
As I mentioned in last month's blog, Edge launched its Career Footsteps campaign in February to highlight the options available to young people as they approach school-leaving age.
For many youngsters, 'learning by doing' can be a much more effective way to study. Acquiring practical skills can give students confidence and resilience, and even give them an advantage over their peers who start work directly from university.
While we might imagine this applies to manual skills in subjects like engineering or future employees of Charlie Mullins, it can apply to all sorts of occupations.
Bekah Leonard, aged 19, was set to follow the customary route from A-levels to university. She says:
'If someone said to me a year ago I would be doing an apprenticeship, I would have laughed and said, 'Don't be silly. I don't know anything about engineering.'
Now in the second year of her journalism apprenticeship with career development website Uni's not for me, Bekah has no regrets and is relishing her role.
'The best part is that unlike those doing journalism degrees, I'm earning while I learn. I've gained independence as well as confidence in my ability, and more experience than I'd have thought possible at just 19 years old.'
Bekah is supporting the Career Footsteps campaign and says she loves her job because, 'I've already been published hundreds of times.'
Skilling not filling
The imperative behind the creation of new apprenticeships is not just to provide alternative career pathways, but to develop a skill base to help the UK economy grow over the longer term.
Earlier in March, Chippenham MP Michelle Donelan secured a Westminster Hall debate on Engineering Skills: Design and Technology Education, highlighting the fall in the number of students taking Design and Technology at GCSE level and the perennially low number of girls taking STEM subjects.
For many UK companies, offering apprenticeships is a key part of a successful growth strategy ensuring they have the skilled workforce they need. Engineering company Renishaw is hiring 45 apprentices this year. Renishaw apprentices have gone on to achieve a full honours degree and many who joined the company in the late 80s are now Divisional Directors and Board members. Providing quality apprenticeships benefits employers too.
Founder and Chief Executive, Sir David McMurtry says:
"I think apprenticeship schemes are very important to British industry. Getting people onto practical apprenticeships and then university has been one of the key elements in our success at Renishaw."
The roll out
Until we dispel myths that apprenticeships are a second rate career option, then we will fail many of our young people, both boys and girls, as well as the UK economy. The apprenticeship levy should be an opportunity to extend 'learning by doing' in larger companies and big corporates and to a much wider range of professions, while still allowing SMEs to do what they have always done well.
Recently I read that NHS Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group is creating 40 new apprenticeships in business administration and healthcare assistant roles in local GP practices. Charlie Mullins is an inspiring champion for apprenticeships, but we need our apprentices to come in all sorts of uniforms. Rather like a Melton Mowbray pork pie and Parma ham, they may be different, but they can enjoy the same status.
Alice Barnard is chief executive of Edge