This week is National Apprenticeship Week – a chance to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.
As a North East construction business that has been developing young people for almost 40 years, it’s a campaign we subscribe to wholeheartedly. Hundreds of young people have been trained through our business, going on to lead long and fulfilling careers.
Our finance director started here as a YTS office clerk more than 32 years ago while our senior quantity surveyor left school at 16. Just 12 years later, he is now helping to manage some of the region’s largest social housing projects.
Our success as a construction firm is solidly grounded on providing an environment for apprentices to prosper and thrive; I am absolutely of the belief that great businesses are made by apprentices and that apprenticeships lead to great prospects.
I would urge any business, from whatever sector, to get on board and to support apprenticeships.
For our economy to thrive in the 21st century, we need an appropriate mix of academically educated individuals and - equally important - a highly skilled, vocationally trained workforce.
During difficult times, it’s a challenge for all employers to invest in apprenticeships, but over the long-term, I sincerely believe that such investment reaps huge rewards, not just for the individual, but for companies and the economy as a whole.
In Germany, they are leading the way in vocational training and education. They have an excellent model that allows young people to leave school and pursue a vocational, educational pathway that carries the same value in society as its academic equivalent. It is generally considered to be an exemplary system and could well form the basis of a similar approach in the UK.
I am pleased to see that the North East region is one of the front-runners when it comes to recruiting apprentices. Last year, there were 33,430 applications for apprenticeship vacancies in this region – an increase of 11% on 2012 - and after London, we have experienced the most competition for vacancies, with each available role attracting an average of 18 applicants.
That competition is good. It means that young people are working harder to gain apprenticeships, bringing clear drive and determination to their prospective employers.
At Gus Robinson Developments, approximately 30% of current employees joined the company as an apprentices/trainees. The benefits of developing a sustained and structured apprenticeship scheme – something we call the Gus Robinson Way – are significant.
We have won millions of pounds worth of contracts from clients that have specifically asked to work with partners that have a commitment to tackling youth unemployment.
Having an apprenticeship scheme breeds a culture of consistency too. Staff retention year-on-year stands at over 80%, and around 35% of our staff have been with us for a decade or more.
But there’s an impact on society too. Our business is located in one of the most deprived parts of Hartlepool, where youth unemployment is high and aspirations are low. Because of our close links to the community, we are able to forge great partnerships with charities, local schools, colleges and community groups to help them signpost young people away from poor prospects and towards fulfilling their true potential.
When my father founded this business in 1975, he recognised the need to balance skills and education.
He saw training as really being the key to successful employees and a successful business. Any campaign which supports, recognises and nurtures the value of apprentices is to be encouraged.
As a country, if we are going to achieve a leading-edge, manufacturing and export-based recovery, then we should be at the forefront of educating and training a workforce that is fit to meet this task.