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Business & Economy

The Big Question

National Apprenticeship Week returns in February, using the theme ‘Skills for Life’ to highlight the importance of young talent to companies’ success, while celebrating training programmes’ role in securing learners long and successful careers.

Just how important are apprentices to organisations’ futures? And are there any elements of the learning system you believe could be improved?


Bill Scott

Chief executive

Wilton Engineering

Succession planning is fundamental to any business, and this includes generating a consistent pipeline of talented people with the skills and competencies to contribute to a sustainable organisation, and indeed an economy.

In the engineering industry, we have faced the challenge of a skills shortage, due to a general lack of training and apprenticeships over many years, combined with an ageing workforce, and it has been the responsibility of businesses to address this and encourage the education system to keep pace.

Apprenticeships form a key element of this approach. Every business can benefit from engaging with apprenticeships, helping to not only mould their future generations of employees, but have an influence on their training.

We have invested in our own apprenticeship academy for this very reason.

We have employed qualified trainers to deliver highly-skilled, on-the-job training to our apprentices, who are also benefiting from working closely with experienced colleagues, gaining the skills we need them to achieve, alongside the qualifications and educational support they get from our partners at Hartlepool College.

They can also soak up the culture of a business and gain the crucial skills that only come from being in the workplace.

Colleges and training providers have an understanding of what employers need, which has to enable awarding bodies the ability to shape apprenticeship frameworks to the modern working environment, particularly fast-evolving sectors such as engineering.


Louise Doyle

Chief executive


When we recruit new staff, we start by asking, ‘why can’t this role be an apprenticeship?’, and this approach has resulted in half of our workforce joining as apprentices.

Creating high-quality careers is core to what we stand for.

Our commercial success is built on bringing talented people with us on a shared journey – learning, working and growing together.

For an employer to gain from investing in apprenticeships, apprentices must progressively develop their skills to become productive employees.

We share responsibility for the quality of the apprentice’s experience with the training provider to achieve this. When the programme isn’t good enough, everyone suffers.

According to recent reports, nearly half of apprentices leave their apprenticeship before it completes.

Employers must be part of the conversation to explore both the reasons and the solutions behind the numbers.

The apprenticeship system focuses too much attention on large employers, yet needs SMEs to engage for it to be successful.

Using unspent apprenticeship levy to encourage SME involvement seems obvious.

My one ask is to use it to help small business leaders fund the in-house capacity we need to mentor apprentices or T-level placement students.

We can work wonders if we’re supported to do so.

Fran Cormican

Managing director


As a former apprentice, it’s easy for me to advocate the benefits of apprenticeships, not only to an organisation, but to the individual too.

Having utilised apprenticeships across the Intelect workforce for 25 years by adopting a ‘train to retain’ ethos, the company has seen endless evidence as to why they are so important.

If adopted correctly, they can be key to business growth and longevity, allowing companies to widen their capabilities, while retaining talented, innovative individuals.

In niche industries, apprenticeships are particularly advantageous, as not only can you mould young people to have the skills and knowledge required, but you can also utilise them to upskill your existing employees, helping to counteract skills shortages.

Apprenticeships have historically been plagued by the stereotype that they are inferior to university, which isn’t the case.

While in some instances an apprenticeship isn’t appropriate, the Government still needs to do more at younger educational levels to highlight the opportunities available.

There also needs to be an onus on larger organisations to commit to training more apprentices and utilising the available levy.

Far too often, SMEs are making large investments in apprenticeships and maxing out their levy, only to have qualified employees headhunted by organisations with big budgets once they conclude their training.

This causes huge recruitment problems for SMEs when it comes to securing and retaining talent for the future, and needs to be addressed.


Martin Kearney

Managing director


We have a lot of long-serving employees, which is fantastic, because they’re loyal and absolute experts in their field.

But it also means we have an ageing workforce, which makes apprenticeships vital for our long-term future.

We recruit about ten apprentices each year, in a range of roles across the business, and more than 95 per cent of them move into a higher apprenticeship or full-time employment with us on completion.

We’re committed to developing early career paths, which provide us with solid succession planning for critical roles and gives the apprentices bespoke skills and competencies.

They have a great chance of getting a permanent job at the end of the apprenticeship, and we gain skilled and engaged employees who can build their careers with us and secure the future of our workforce.

Our apprenticeships are often for very specific job roles, which need very specific training.

It’s essential the training meets the needs of us and the apprentices.

The partnerships we have with learning providers are vital, and only successful through regular communication and good working relationships. 

We’ve got a new learning centre, in South Shields, which is the perfect environment for apprentices to start their training, and we’re investing half a billion pounds in new fleet, track and service improvements over the next five years.

There is a lot going on, and the enthusiasm and commitment apprentices bring is essential to a successful future for Nexus.