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In a changing and seemingly uncertain world – think Brexit, new technology and General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) to name a few – it may be understandable that some businesses are cautious about investing in tomorrow’s talent. Certainly, media reports of a significant drop in apprentice starts would seem to be proof of just this – although this drop by itself is slightly misleading and was to be expected at a time of significant transformation in the way apprenticeships are run and funded.

The paradox is that such programmes have the potential to provide both stability in these times of change, and the injection of energy and talent businesses need to move with their markets. If anything, we need more of them!

Solving Skills Gaps

Though an issue felt across almost every sector globally, the ongoing skills shortage in two of Arqiva’s primary industries – technology and engineering – is particularly well-documented.

According to a recent study by CWJobs, 94% of technology employers believe there is an industry-wide skills shortage. Similarly, EngineeringUK last year announced that the country needs 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025 to meet demand. Combine this with the unrelenting pace of digital transformation and such figures are only set to get starker.

A well-executed apprenticeship programme can mitigate these challenges – providing businesses like ours with an opportunity to address their skills needs at all levels.

Since launching the Arqiva apprenticeship scheme in 2008, we have evolved our programmes to make them more and more job specific to do just that – giving our apprentices hands-on experience in areas of high demand across both business and engineering. More recently, we have also introduced management apprenticeships to complement our existing management development programmes, meaning that apprenticeships really are touching every part and level of our business.

We find this approach highly empowering for the individual – and, by extension, the business – giving them much better access to the company and a platform where they can make a positive contribution to our overall success. Instead of simply watching and learning, our apprentices are directly involved in important business projects and the maintenance of our critical infrastructure for the transmission of TV and radio across the UK. This includes scaling some of the tallest masts in the country to make operational repairs – a very significant level of responsibility.

Of the 86 apprentices that have come through our doors since 2008, 69 remain with the company. That’s a retention rate of 80%, which we are rightly proud of. From a business perspective, our apprenticeship scheme is producing confident, talented employees that are fully equipped to fulfil crucial business needs.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Beyond tackling skills gaps, apprenticeship schemes can also inspire a culture of learning, growth and innovation that is crucial for an organisation experiencing change.

Like many businesses in our sector, Arqiva has a relatively high age profile in some parts of the organisation, with industry specialists in place who have developed expertise over many years. Again, this is something that we are very proud of, and in challenging times it has proved paramount to our success. However, it is important to supplement this experience with new talent to make sure the business can continue to grow and adapt to market conditions.  

The apprentices we bring in are curious and ask questions about our day-to-day processes. They bring new perspectives, unclouded by previous experience, and in doing so they challenge us to constantly improve our operations and consider brand new ways of doing things. As a result our apprenticeship programme has a two-way benefit – not only do the apprentices learn from us, but importantly we also learn from them and the business becomes richer for it.

Nurturing New Leaders

Apprenticeship schemes encourage learning and development across the organisation as a whole, and are a fundamental driver of an innovative culture within a business as a result. However, one of their biggest advantages is often realised many years down the line, when employees that have passed through them become responsible for leading company growth strategies.

When managed correctly, an apprenticeship programme instils in its participants a deep understanding of the company and its values, and makes them feel part of a family where they have both impact and responsibility. As a result, apprentices often become some of the most loyal and knowledgeable employees within an organisation.

We are incredibly proud of our 80% apprentice retention rate. During the ten years we have been running our programme, there have been some fantastic success stories. Victoria Shepherd and Glen Lines both joined Arqiva in 2008, and in that time, Victoria has worked her way up to the role of Service Excellence manager in our Satellite and Media business, working with some of our largest satellite broadcasting customers. Glen, meanwhile, has progressed to be Operations Manager, managing a significant part of the Terrestrial Broadcast network and leading an operational team of 15.

As a company tasked with delivering some of the UK’s most important broadcasting services, we need to be able to trust our employees, and having the likes of Victoria and Glen in the team provides us with the assurance that our best practice principals and quality standards will always be maintained.

In a post-Brexit, digitally transformed, data-conscious world, it will pay to have leaders who have a comprehensive understanding of the business and an emotional investment in its success – businesses should be looking towards apprenticeship schemes to identify and develop these leaders.

Over the last three years, the frequency of our apprenticeship intake has been growing rapidly, and we have been expanding the nature of the courses that we offer, recently adding structural engineering, chartered surveyors and software development.

Many of our previous apprentices are now starting to work with the next-generation of intakes, educating them on the business and passing on the skills they have developed. This is creating a cycle where we are constantly reinforcing our skillset, and preserving our identity whilst we evolve.

Faced with an ever-more complex business environment, there is no better time for UK businesses to start considering how they can implement or expand their own apprenticeship schemes.

John Druce, Learning and Development Manager at Arqiva

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