Author: Lee Acton (pictured), Skillnet chief executive
Thousands of school-leavers may soon learn a very important life lesson; getting a well-paid, enjoyable and interesting job with prospects is hard.
Recent employment figures make stark reading for those awaiting GCSE and A Level results. There are currently 728,000 18-24-year-olds currently categorised as NEETS – Not in Education, Employment or Training.
Graduates are not having it any easier, with 85 graduates on average competing for every available job.
These statistics show that it is no longer simply a case of inputting GSCE, A-level and degree qualifications into a CV and walking into a job. Now students need to have a plan.
This could include going toe-to-toe with thousands of other job seekers or undergraduate degree holders.
But there is another option; high-quality apprenticeships that combine education with employment, a path being chosen by an ever-increasing number of learners.
I spoke with three automotive apprentices to find out why they chose to study an apprenticeship and what they had gained from the experience and also found out what their respective managers thought of them.
Caine Cleaver (21) - technician at Fishers of Wigston, a franchised Ford dealership in Wigston, Leicestershire
“I left school with 10 GCSEs – an A, seven Bs and two Cs. I went to college to study A Levels but left after three weeks after realising that I didn’t want to sit in a classroom anymore.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at that point. All I knew was that I didn’t learn well in a classroom environment with a lot of information just thrown at me and didn’t want to work in an office doing paperwork.
“That’s why the vehicle maintenance and repair apprenticeship suited me so well, as it gave me the opportunity to get hands on straight away and pick things up as I went along, guided by my mentor George Bailey and my colleagues.
“I completed my training two months ago and would encourage other people to enrol on an Apprenticeship. It gave me a structure and something to work towards.
“I think apprenticeships are really worthwhile. It wasn’t an option that was really mentioned much when I was at school as everyone was just encouraged to do their A Levels and then go to university.
“I think more and more people are going down the apprenticeship route now, though.
“I’ve got no regrets with the choice I made. While a lot of people I know are writing essays for university I’ve completed my Apprenticeship, have no debts and a job that I enjoy.
“I’m really happy where I am. My colleagues have been very good to me and supported me throughout my training.
“I’m now looking forward to continuing to work hard and take the next training steps in the future.”
Michael Fisher, aftersales director at Fishers of Wigston, said: “Caine has always been keen to learn and fill in wherever he can. From day one he has worked extremely well with his mentor and the rest of the team and is always more than happy to help. He’s one of the best Apprentices we’ve ever had.”
Matthew Roberson (20) - technician at the Kings Lynn branch of Scania dealer TruckEast
“I was considering my options and thought about going to university but when the Apprenticeship opportunity came up I realised that this was exactly what I wanted to do.
“With university there’s the costs and the uncertainty to consider; you could spend three years studying, get a qualification but then end up struggling to find a job and find yourself with money troubles.
“The apprenticeship gave me the chance to learn and earn money at the same time. I left school with 10 GCSEs – 1 A, 2B and 8Cs – and I’ve just finished my last block of college training and will graduate in September.
“It’s been really good. I’ve enjoyed learning the theory at college and immediately putting it into practice in the workshop.
“I’m really pleased that I decided to undertake this apprenticeship. I’ve got a great job in an industry I love without wasting three years to get here.”
Ben Nichols, depot manager, said: “Matthew is a good, hard-working employee. He keeps his head down and does whatever we ask of him.
"As a former apprentice myself, I believe wholeheartedly in the training system and think Matthew now has the platform for a great career in the industry ahead of him.”
Ryan Callahan (20) - technician at Harris DAF Grays in Essex
“I went to sixth form to study A-levels but wasn’t enjoying it; I didn’t find it very fulfilling and wanted to earn money.
“That’s why the apprenticeship appealed to me, as it gave me the chance to earn and learn at the same time.
“My stepdad’s a heavy goods vehicle mechanic and had told me about the job and career prospects and so when I saw an Apprenticeship come up with Harris DAF Grays I jumped at the chance.
“This HGV apprenticeship combines blocks of college training with monitoring and assessment in the workplace, something I enjoyed more compared to just classroom learning.
“The structure really suited me and gave me training and experience at the same time. I know a lot of people who went to college or university who are now struggling to get the job they want, with employers telling them they have no experience.
“I will graduate from this apprenticeship in October and can’t wait to continue my career at Harris DAF Grays.”
Jamie Selway, system service manager, said: “Ryan’s a great apprentice. He has been very professional throughout his training. He’s very competent and capable.
“Harris DAF Grays has a long history of taking on apprentices. I was an apprentice myself. We believe in the system and always look to develop our own workforce for the future.”
These apprenticeships were developed and delivered by Skillnet, a training provider which offers a full range of training services to employers and employees across the UK.
“I believe, by enrolling on these apprenticeships, these technicians were given a route into the industry and the opportunity to earn while they learn. I’m delighted that they have benefited from the training provided and wish them all the best in their careers.
“There are plenty of similar opportunities available to school-leavers right now. Those looking for a challenge and the chance to learn new skills should act now and apply for an apprenticeship.”
For more information about Skillnet and the training courses it provides, visit www.skillnet.org.uk or call 01923 216165.