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New apprentices building Bernicia’s future

North East housing association Bernicia is developing its future workforce from within. Its latest crop of apprentices is embarking on the same path taken by many others now building successful careers with the business.

The ten new apprentices taking their first steps into the world of work at Bernicia are treading a well-worn path to success.

Since the Ashington-headquartered business began its apprenticeship programme a decade ago, it has recruited more than 60 people, with 96 per cent of those deciding to stay and pursue their career with Bernicia on completion of their training.

Apprentices work under the guidance of experienced colleagues across every facet of the business, spanning electricians, joiners, plumbers, plasterers and bricklayers through to housing assistants, IT support, procurement specialists and business administrators.

They spend between 18 months and four years on the programme, combining paid employment with one day of training per week with local colleges and learning providers.

Several apprentices have gone on to gain level three and four qualifications and risen to senior leadership and management roles – creating Bernicia’s very own homegrown talent pipeline.

Bernicia’s apprenticeship programme is a pillar of a £2 million investment – pledged in its corporate strategy – to help people in local communities access work and new opportunities.

Jackie Johnson, employability manager, heads up a new team of experienced industry professionals consisting of employability business partners Dionne Smith, Anthony Burdis and monitoring officer Amelia Lyall-Rollin.

The team works with partners across the North East business and education sectors to build aspiration, increase confidence and provide access to training, skills and job opportunities.

Jackie says: “It’s life-changing for these young people as they take their first steps into what we hope will be successful careers for all of them.

“We are growing our next generation.

“We’ve so many examples of young people who joined us as apprentices who have gone on to fill important roles within our business.

“We engage with local schools and colleges to promote our apprenticeship opportunities, and our employability team organises work placements and CV and mock interview support to help prepare students for the world of work.

“We plan to continue to invest in our apprenticeship programme over the coming years to develop our own talent in line with business needs and succession planning – and are planning to invest in green apprenticeships in the future too.”

One of those homegrown success stories is Ryan Irving-Carr.

Joining Bernicia at 20 as an apprentice plumber, he has risen rapidly through the ranks.

Now 12 years on, he is assistant director of assets, leading a team of 20 and overseeing the building maintenance programme of Bernicia’s 14,000 homes and retirement living accommodation.

He says: “I was just trying to get a trade under my belt when I came to Bernicia.

“I didn’t want to be saddled with debt from university, and the opportunity to learn on the job while getting a salary appealed to me.

“As it was, the professional and academic route opened up to me as part of the apprenticeship, and I gained a first-class building surveyor degree from Northumbria University.”

Rising star Anna Humble joined Bernicia as an apprentice three years ago and was recognised by her colleagues as apprentice of the year in staff excellence awards.

Anna is now seconded into the role of housing officer.

She says: “Throughout the last three years of my apprenticeship, I have enjoyed both studying at college and learning ‘on the job’.

“My colleagues have been a huge help to me, and every day is different.

“I hope to get the opportunity to apply for a permanent housing officer position at Bernicia and continue studying for my foundation degree.”

Fully-qualified Bernicia electrician Sarah Boyle is reaping the rewards of a life-changing decision to plug into career success.

At 26, and after eight years’ customer service work at a supermarket, she decided it wasn’t for her, and took up an apprentice electrician role at Bernicia.

Now a valued member of the property maintenance division, she is Bernicia’s first fully-qualified female tradesperson.

Bernicia assets and property project manager Nick Riordan served six years in the Royal Air Force – completing four months of medical evacuation work in Afghanistan – before seeking a fresh challenge.

He says: “I terminated my military service without any real plan, so the Bernicia apprenticeship was an opportunity to settle back into civilian life, and it has since served as a foundation to develop professionally and academically.

“I have been fortunate to have had a number of opportunities at Bernicia, all of which I am endlessly grateful for.

“In my current role, we supervise the delivery of planned investment work on our stock, ensuring efficient and effective value for money is achieved.”

Apprentice joiner Libbi Knight is pursuing her dream of a career as a tradesperson, working alongside skilled joiners as part of a team that prepares Bernicia homes for new tenants.

She adds: “I was so happy to get an apprenticeship at Bernicia, I couldn’t stop smiling, I just wanted to do this so much.

“Hopefully, I’ll stay at Bernicia after my apprenticeship; I’m getting used to concentrating hard and remembering how to do things, like putting in kitchens, fitting doors and new skirting boards.”