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Ground-breaking Careers Pilot Hailed a Success

An independent evaluation of the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance Pilot has been releasedThe North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) played a central role in the Pilot and Skills Director Michelle Rainbow reflects on this and how even after the Pilot was completed, the Benchmarks have remained at the heart of the North East Ambition programme.  

I was so proud when I read the evaluation – to hear the Pilot described as transformational and to know that the North East played such a pivotal role has been a real honour.   

We’ve always believed that the right careers education can have lifelong rewards for young people and to see that recognised independently today is fantastic.  

We started with 12 schools, three colleges and one pupil referral unit taking part in the Pilot, which ran across two academic years (2015/2016 and 2016/2017). 

The Pilot was designed to support those schools and colleges to implement the eight Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance, evaluate how they were implemented, and identify what impacts might result from this. Today’s report notes the “observable and positive impact on learners, especially those who are most disadvantaged” – demonstrating the value that the Benchmarks can bring.  

The North East Strategic Economic Plan is our blueprint for growth in the North East. We know that skills and people are central to successful economies and through our work with the Pilot we’ve defined a programme with careers at its coreOur approach was bolstered by government integrating the Benchmarks into the national careers strategy, which requires every secondary school to adopt the Benchmarks and North East Ambition is here to support them to do that.  

North East Ambition’s key principle is “each and every”, making sure that every single student has the opportunity to access good careers guidance and recognise what their pathway could be. Why? Because we too believe it can be transformational.  

We have secured £3.1m European and match funding to support our North East Ambition programme that sees us working with 170 secondary schools and all nine of our FE colleges and two 6th form centres. This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to our pledge to work with each and every pupil in our region so that no one is left behind.  

We have also launched a new Pilot to adapt and translate the Benchmarks for primary aged pupils. There’s increasing evidence to show that children begin to form ideas about their futures when they’re as young as five or six. And by the age of 10, many young people have already made career limiting decisions, which are fixed by the time they’re 14. Imagine how we could change that trajectory if we could embed Benchmarks that related to primary aged pupils. We are one year in and our results are extremely encouraging.  

We haven’t let the impact of COVID-19 slow us down either. The trusted relationships we have built with the schools and colleges through over the past five years gave us the established network and routes into schools and colleges that we needed to continue to support young learners at the most challenging time. 

One of the things we have been incredibly keen to keep going is helping young people experience the world of work even during COVID-19 where they can’t physically get into workplaces. This is why, in response to requests from Careers Leaders, we have developed a Work Experience Framework, which will be launched next week. As an online resource, the site will support students and employers to facilitate virtual work experience  

The Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Career Guidance Pilot was an incredible success and we are grateful that our partnership with the Gatsby Foundation enabled us to play such a critical role in it. But the work is not over – this is just the start as we continue to lead the way in showing our young people there is a world of opportunity available to them and anything is possible. 

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New report shows improving career guidance in schools and colleges leads to better student outcomes and attitudes, and raises aspirations

Improving career guidance in secondary schools and colleges can lead to better student outcomes, while also raising aspirations and increasing engagement with education, according to the final evaluation of a four year pilot.

The evaluation, carried out by the International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS) at the University of Derby, followed 16 schools and colleges in the North East of England as they implemented a career guidance framework known as the Gatsby Benchmarks. Findings within the report include:

  • Student Career readiness scores (a measure of preparedness for work) showed significant increases in all year groups across the four years of the evaluation
  • The greater the number of Benchmarks held, the greater the number of GCSE passes at A*-C/9-4 were achieved by each learner, even when gender, ethnicity, SEND status, FSM status, looked after status and Ofsted rating were statistically controlled for.
  • Between 2015 and 2019, learners at pilot colleges became increasingly more likely to achieve their learning outcomes, compared to learners at local colleges or all other colleges.

As well as this, teaching staff observed real changes in learner’s engagement in class. There was a reduction in learners querying the point of particular subjects or topics because they understood the relationship between knowledge/skills and their future career. Employers supporting the pilot also said that young people were better able to articulate their career ideas and talk about themselves, and were better informed about their options as well as the types of jobs available.

The pilot, begun in 2015, was set up to test how schools and colleges could use the Gatsby Benchmarks for Good Career Guidance and what the impact would be on their students. The North East region was selected, and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership ran the pilot along with the Gatsby Foundation.

Following early results from the pilot, the Government adopted the Gatsby Benchmarks into their 2017 Careers Strategy for all schools and colleges in England, and has recently renewed its commitment to having the Benchmarks as a part of national education strategy in the ‘Skills for Jobs’ White Paper.

Alistair Cummins-MacLeod, Director of Student Experience, Engagement & Wellbeing at East Durham College, said: “The pilot and the Gatsby Benchmarks have helped raise careers education to a new level. Our students have certainly benefited from this. They are more aware of the opportunities and can make really informed decisions about what they want to do next.”

Dr Jill Hanson, Lead Author on the evaluation, said: “Following the pilot schools and colleges for four years has been incredibly exciting. We have watched them implement excellent career guidance programmes and were privileged to be able to see the difference this has made to the schools and colleges, to the staff and most importantly to the students. This pilot has had a positive impact on the knowledge, attitudes, skills and aspirations of students in the North East and it is important that this progress continues across the country.”

Beth Jones, Head of Career programmes at the Gatsby Foundation, said: “Careers guidance should never be seen as an ‘add-on’ to school or college learning. What this evaluation makes clear is the difference made to the lives of students when Careers as a priority.  As schools and colleges around the country continue to work towards the Benchmarks, we hope this evaluation will show them the amazing impact their work can have on their students.”

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director, North East Local Enterprise Partnership said: “I was so proud when I read the evaluation – to hear the Pilot described as transformational and to know that the North East played such a pivotal role, was such an honour. We’ve always believed that the right careers education can have lifelong rewards for young people to see that has been recognised independently today is fantastic. We continue to keep the Benchmarks at the heart of our North East Ambition programme as a sign of our support and commitment to them.”

Ryan Gibson, Facilitator of the pilot at the North East LEP, said: “It was a privilege to lead the pilot, to work directly with schools and colleges and to see the transformational impact of the Benchmarks. The North East LEP, the pilot schools and colleges and the individual career leaders involved developed an approach that now underpins our national work towards ensuring that each and every young person benefits from world class careers provision.”

Image: Students at Harton Academy learning about careers.

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£40,000 boost for North East retirement saving trials

The Department for Work and Pensions has today announced a £40,000 funding boost in the North East to help people take stock of their health, skills and wealth as part of later life planning.

With the pandemic impacting people’s lives in different ways, many will already be reviewing their current situation – including those wanting a fuller working life, those able to put more into their savings after a period of working from home, or those looking to improve their resilience for the future.

At a time where many are worried about job security, the “mid-life MOTs” will enable people to identify the skills they will need for the job journey they want, helping them make more informed choices and build their future financial resilience. This initiative will help workers to plan for the future they want.

Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion Guy Opperman said: “It’s no secret I am a huge fan of this idea and I’m excited to see the results of the North East LEP’s trials.

“While we started work on this before the pandemic, the last twelve months have bought people’s financial resilience into sharp focus – making a mid-life MOT a timely exercise for many.

“And it’s not just about retirement savings but also about enabling people to enjoy a fuller working life by helping them understand the skills they will need to learn along the way.”

The North East LEP is partnering with Good Things Foundation, the UK’s leading digital inclusion charity, to explore how to embed digital inclusion into promotion and take-up of a Mid-Life MOT in communities and with local employers.

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East LEP said: “In a region where employment rates have had the largest impact on 50-64 year olds, and Ofcom data shows that only 18 percent of people use the internet fully, the North East pilot will help people to overcome digital exclusion to access the online toolkit to assess their skills, health and finance and better plan for their futures.”

The trials will help the DWP understand:

  • The actions individuals take as a result of undertaking the mid-life MOT;
  • The user needs among those most at risk of experiencing long term unemployment;
  • The effectiveness of using local delivery channels and how these can complement the Money and Pensions Service (MAPs), the National Careers Service (NCS) and Public Health England (PHE), in supporting individuals with later life planning.

The funding given to the North East LEP is just one of ten to be given to LEPs across England. Each will receive up to £40,000 to develop, and implement, the mid-life MOT trials.

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In conversation with Linda Conlon, Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, about inspiring young people through careers education

The world of work today is very different to the one I first joined. It’s estimated young people can expect to change careers between five and seven times, and at least two of those will not be of their choosing. Looking back with what may be rose-tinted glasses, it seemed easier to move around and experience different jobs when I began my career.

I think if I was looking to offer some general advice to young people today it would be to keep your career options open. Don’t close them down before you have to and focus on one specific area.

It’s a positive thing to sample different work environments. I’ve worked for a multinational company, the government, a regional development agency, and for a number of years I ran my own marketing consultancy, which allowed me to work with a range of businesses and clients.

It’s not always about what you do, but the environment that you work in. If you’re happy and comfortable in your chosen environment you feel like you belong, and that gives you the best chance of a fulfilling and rewarding career.

It always strikes me as sad when some people are stuck in jobs they don’t like. You spend more time at work – in normal circumstances – with your work colleagues than you do at home. Why then would you do something you don’t enjoy?

When I was at school, I didn’t really benefit from any specific careers advice; there certainly wasn’t a sustained programme to recognise talent. Someone would come to the school for half a day and ask what you liked doing. I do remember someone saying they wanted to travel and they were advised to be a bus driver.

It was also quite common at the time to choose between arts-based or science-based subjects. Now, people don’t necessarily have to do the classic trio of subjects – maths, physics and chemistry. People can choose to study a mix of subjects that gives them a breadth of knowledge.

It’s really important to introduce people to the world of work from an early stage and that’s something we try to do in the centre’s visitor attraction, Life Science Centre. We offer an informal learning environment and we want to inspire people when they visit, ignite their curiosity and get them thinking in different ways. We encourage people to think creatively and imaginatively. Those skills are important in the world of work, particularly in science.

We have a mantra at Life Science Centre, which is ‘hands on, minds on, hearts on’. I firmly believe people learn better when they’re actively engaged in something that interests them.

It’s also important to say it’s okay to not know what you want to do in the future; people shouldn’t be worried or ashamed about that. Take your time and get it right.

We often talk about change in the workplace, and we’re currently seeing that at an unprecedented rate. That’s why I think young people should be flexible and not take themselves down a route they’re not sure of.

Parents have an important role to play in that, too. Young people often find they move unconsciously down a career path prompted by their parents.

Sadly, stereotypes still prevail in the science and technology sector, and some of that can come from parents, especially those without an interest in the area. That can discourage young people from pursuing STEM subjects, so we need to help students and their parents understand how science qualifications can stand them in good stead across many different careers.

In the gaming sector, for example, a large majority of people have qualifications in maths and physics. Unfortunately, young people don’t often make the connection between those exciting, emerging jobs and science subjects.

I’m often asked about my role within the science sector, and what skills and qualifications it takes to become a chief executive.

The first skill is to learn from your mistakes. We all make them, but it’s how you learn from the experience that’s important. I think it also benefits your staff to see someone in a senior leadership position make a mistake and own up to it. It gives them the courage to do the same.

Something that’s always been, and will continue to be important, is communication. It’s essential to be able to explain to people not just what, but why they’re doing something. When people don’t know what’s happening, they fill in the gaps themselves. Communications is something I feel I have a particular strength in, as I worked in the industry for a long time. I believe communications should be frequent, honest and simple.

Developing effective relationships is vital, too. I think a lot of people forget when you have a relationship with an organisation, it’s with the people within it.

Whilst it might sound obvious, listening skills are very important. If you think about our current situation, senior leaders need to understand how it’s impacting staff, their families and their lives. You only get that from listening.

You also need to take risks, and that’s something we’re very good at in Life. As a not-for-profit independent trust, we have a lot of autonomy and entrepreneurial spirit. We used that to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic to become an NHS large vaccination centre.

Taking risks fits with my next attribute, which is thinking outside the box. Despite being a not-for-profit, we think commercially at Life. By making a profit we can improve and expand the job we do – and do it better. That’s why it’s key to learn from other sectors and other businesses.

If I wasn’t chief executive of Life, I’d like to be either a wildly successful criminal barrister, or a wildly successful crime fiction writer. I’m always told only a small handful of people become successful criminal barristers. I’d definitely want to be one of the rich ones.

Linda Conlon is Chief Executive of the International Centre for Life, which opened in May 2000, with the purpose of inspiring everyone in North East England to explore and enjoy science and to discover its relevance to their own lives.

Linda is the first woman from Europe to be elected as Chair of the Association of Science and Technology Centres (ASTC), a body which represents more than 600 centres from over 50 countries. Linda is also a former board member of Ecsite, the European network of science centres and museums, and former Chair of its UK equivalent.

In recognition of her outstanding service to science and science education in North East England, she was awarded an MBE in January 2016.

www.life.org.uk

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Investing in infrastructure key for North East’s economic recovery

By Darren Laybourn, Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and North East LEP Business Growth Board member.

Manchester’s skyline is often used to illustrate how well the economy is performing in the North West. The sight of tower cranes and new buildings appearing across the city suggests a high level of confidence from inward investors, and a vibrant, growing business community.

The construction industry can be a good indicator of a region’s economic health, which is why there has been so much focus on infrastructure and building back better from the coronavirus pandemic.

During the first national lockdown, the construction sector was one of the few areas of industry able to fully continue working. Government further bolstered the sector by investing millions of pounds in supporting infrastructure projects across the UK, including here in the North East, through the Getting Building Fund.

A booming construction sector gives confidence to the business community, particularly startups and SMEs. It encourages businesses to continue to invest in staff, which is vital in helping retain skills and talent in the region.

The UK’s exit from the EU has brought about new labour regulations that if not managed correctly, may result in a shortage of skills in some areas of the country. At a time when we’re looking to recover quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important we don’t develop a regional cold spot in terms of skills and labour.

The construction industry in the UK accounts for 10% of total UK employment – approximately three million jobs.* It also supports a wider ecosystem including delivery partners, supply chains – even coffee shops that serve workers on their lunch breaks. And it doesn’t stop there. The construction industry is the catalyst for creating new jobs in the longer term too, be that through new office spaces, business parks, enterprise zones, etc.

Cities like Manchester, and Leeds have gained the confidence of investors and the business community. That’s reflected in the amount of investment in new infrastructure projects across both destinations. If we’re going to compete with that we must maintain a good base of capital projects in the region and build back from the coronavirus pandemic.

There are already some fantastic examples of regeneration in North East England. Newcastle Helix has helped grow the region’s health and life science sector by creating an environment where academia and business can collaborate and drive forward innovations in data science, urban science and life science.

In Newcastle upon Tyne, work is beginning at pace on the transformation of East Pilgrim Street. The £100m project will introduce new offices, bars, restaurants, car parks, and housing in the city centre. The first phase of the project will see the creation of a new landmark, 14-storey, Grade A office building.

Across the river in Gateshead, the £290m NewcastleGateshead Quays regeneration scheme is expected to create around 2,000 new jobs in the North East and provide a £60m annual boost to the local economy.

Projects of this scale and ambition have increased confidence in the North East, resulting in more inward investment and more job creation, which maintains and, in some cases, grows those important skills.

The focus of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership on investment and infrastructure is at the heart of the region’s Strategic Economic Plan. Moving forward, we need to continue the successful delivery of funding programmes in the North East – including the Local Growth Fund. We also need to develop a regional project pipeline and support SMEs in the North East to bid for local work.

Earlier this year the North East COVID-19 Economic Response Group – which comprises the North East LEP, CBI, North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities, the region’s universities, with the support of industry – submitted its North East Recovery and Renewal Deal to government, asking for a £2.8bn investment to support the North East’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Building infrastructure to lead transformation and encourage future investment is a key theme in the deal. It is this that will help the region bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic and support future growth and investment in the North East.

Darren Laybourn is Director and Regional Strategic Lead at Turner & Townsend, and a Business Growth Board member at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership

*(source: https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/UK_construction_industry)

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Celebrating careers education in the North East during National Careers Week

Michelle Rainbow, Skills Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, welcomes the start of National Careers Week 2021.

Today marks the beginning of National Careers Week, a celebration of the importance of good careers guidance, and the resources available to help students make more informed decisions about their futures.

Running from 01-06 March, it’s an opportunity to highlight the role careers guidance has in helping young people prepare for the world of work, as well as shining a light on the many and varied routes to employment.

National Careers Week is also about supporting teachers and educators to access the wealth of free resources available to help them deliver quality careers education in schools and colleges – something the North East LEP has been leading in our region through North East Ambition.

Finally, it provides businesses the chance to engage with students and the education sector about the employment opportunities available for young people within their organisations.

Throughout this week we’ll be highlighting the different ways the North East LEP is working in partnership with education and business to improve young people’s understanding of the world of work.

Each day we’ll focus on a different audience: primary, secondary, higher education, further education, and businesses. We’ll highlight some of the progammes and initiatives led by the North East LEP, and those by our partners in education and industry, that are helping young people make more informed choices about their future.

We’ll highlight the success of the LEP’s Career Benchmarks Primary Pilot, which is raising the aspirations and broadening the horizons of North East primary school pupils. We’ll also share details of North East Opportunities, a new website delivered in partnership with NP11 that provides information for students at school leaving age about traineeships, apprenticeships, T-Levels, further/higher education, and other academic and vocational routes to employment.

Underpinning National Careers Week is its alignment with the Gatsby Benchmarks. The North East LEP was instrumental in delivering the Good Career Guidance Benchmarks pilot in partnership with the Gatsby Foundation, and it’s fantastic to see the benchmarks are now central to the success of careers education in England.

Schools, colleges, universities and businesses are all invited to take part in National Careers Week. Join the conversation on social media using #NCW2021 and don’t forget to visit www.nationalcareersweek.com where you can download toolkits to help promote your involvement.

The North East LEP is proud to support National Careers Week and champion the amazing work done by our educators and business community to improve skills and opportunities for young people.

By helping our students better understand the employment opportunities available in the region – and the pathways to reach them – we will help create more and better jobs for the North East and grow our economy.

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Why businesses need to upskill and reskill to emerge stronger

Throughout the past year, businesses and their employees have had to continuously adjust and adapt. Some organisations have needed to pivot or drastically re-think business plans and many companies, large and small, now need to ‘do more with less’. Whether that’s as a result of a reduced workforce, a strain on finances or a more challenging operating environment, there are few who can say it’s ‘business as usual’.

Joe Hedley, Assistant Director of Sales and Business Development at Northumbria University, explains the growing need to upskill and reskill employees to ensure that businesses remain efficient, effective and competitive in a post-COVID world.

How has Covid-19 affected businesses’ skills, capacity and ability to deliver?

Since the start of the pandemic, our ability to make choices has diminished. Many businesses have been unable to recruit at a time when they arguably most need new skills to survive and adapt.

Undoubtedly, employees with a diverse skillset are more valuable right now. In many cases, those in senior positions are being called upon to do more as a result of changing demands, increased business pressures or lower-level roles having been furloughed. However, these additional responsibilities don’t always come with the necessary training and support.

Conversely, some businesses are overwhelmed with new and growing opportunities as a result of the pandemic but are similarly struggling to support employees as they try to adapt and cope.

No matter what the challenges or opportunities, COVID-19 forced most companies to change the way they work almost overnight. Consequently, employees now need new or different skills in order to deliver effectively in the long term.

What’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling?

To reskill is to retrain someone in a completely new skillset in order to deliver a different role, whereas upskilling involves learning additional skills to improve an existing skillset.

Why is it so important to upskill and reskill staff right now?

History tells us that in times of crises, successful businesses use recovery as an opportunity to learn and innovate; to re-evaluate what customers want and how to provide it; and to make critical changes to how they are organised and work. These companies reportedly outgrow their peers nearly fourfold. Driving forward in this way means businesses become purpose-built for the new future.

As a result of the digital revolution, and long before the pandemic, it was estimated that 7 out of 10 workers across all sectors needed to upskill their digital capabilities. With the arrival and subsequent challenges of COVID-19, the influence of digital technologies has been dramatically accelerated – compounding the need for new and improved digital skills in every area of the economy.

The full social and economic impacts of COVID (after all, it is not over yet!) are still very much unknown. New problems and new opportunities are yet to be presented and therefore the need for us to adapt, improve and change our skillsets – and retrain where necessary – will become part of the ‘new normal’ for businesses and individuals alike.

How can Universities help?

Drawing on research-rich education, universities like Northumbria can provide a tailored approach to equipping organisations large and small, across all sectors, with the right skills. From degree apprenticeships and continuous professional development, to new product development partnerships and bespoke collaborations, the University can help businesses understand and solve their evolving skills needs (and gaps) so that they’re able to successfully deliver new business models in a post-COVID world.

Read Northumbria University’s Partner of Choice supplement, with the University’s latest business news and information on how research can drive business growth, here.

Find out more about why improving skills in the North East workfore is fundamental to our economic future.

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A show of resilience: apprenticeships shift to an online world

This National Apprenticeship Week, North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Skills Director, Michelle Rainbow, celebrates the resilience of the people who have continued to deliver apprenticeships throughout 2020.  

As it’s National Apprenticeship Week, I wanted to take a moment to really thank all the apprentices, business and training providers who have worked so hard to overcome the challenges brought by the past year.

Of course, the pandemic meant that everyone has faced significant changes to the way we work and learn. While it’s been unavoidable that some businesses have had to pause their recruitment of apprentices, or place existing apprentices on furlough, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the efforts people have taken to adapt to an online world.

Training providers shifted to virtual delivery with impressive speed, meaning apprentices could continue to learn. And businesses have changed the way they operate to enable apprentices to continue with on-site learning where possible – take a look at some examples from maritime crane manufacturer Liebherr-Sunderland, and Newcastle’s NEL Fund Managers.

Of course, many businesses have needed extra support during 2020 and we’ve seen an uplift in businesses applying for funding and support which is available from government to help employers deliver apprenticeships. It’s part of our job as the North East LEP to make sure that businesses know about the support available to them and I was really happy to see nearly 200 people at our online North East Ambition event this week, which included a presentation from the Skills Funding Agency on the range of support available for businesses which want to take on an apprentice.

We also work closely with schools and colleges to help make sure that young people are aware of the full range of routes they can take when they leave school – including A levels, T levels, university and apprenticeships.

Of course, not all apprentices are school-leavers, and the relatively new degree-level apprenticeship has proven to be a popular way for existing staff to upskill or reskill. We’re seeing a good take-up of these apprenticeships here in the North East, with people choosing to combine degree-level learning with workplace experience, and I hope this will continue to grow as we move through 2021.

As businesses across our region plan their recovery from the impact of COVID-19, I’d love to see more businesses thinking about what their future skills needs are, and whether these might have changed in the last year. Apprentices bring so much to a business including a fresh perspective and the latest skills, so if you know that your business needs to build on its digital capabilities, for example, apprenticeships could be one way of bringing these skills in, or upskilling your existing team.

It’s a testament to the dedication and resilience of our region’s apprentices, businesses and learning providers that we’re still seeing apprentices complete their training during the pandemic. As we begin a new year, I hope we can build on this achievement and offer more young people the opportunity to learn at the same time as gaining hands-on experience in the workplace. And ultimately, by building our apprenticeship offer, we will build a skilled workforce for the future, and help to bring more and better jobs to our region.

For more information on apprenticeships, visit the North East Growth Hub’s Apprenticeship Toolkit.

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Investing in a sustainable future through apprenticeships

The Liebherr Group is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction machinery, employing nearly 50,000 colleagues globally. The Group’s Sunderland site is part of its maritime division, manufacturing maritime cranes for use in port environments on ships and offshore rigs. Liebherr-Sunderland Managing Director, Ralph Saelzer, explains how the business continued with its successful apprenticeship programme throughout 2020.

How many apprentices does the Liebherr Group have in Sunderland?

In Sunderland we employ 180 people, and 23 of those are apprentices. Apprentices at the Liebherr Group take on a whole spectrum of roles and at our Sunderland site the majority are in shop floor roles like welding and fabrication. We also have apprentice roles in quality engineering and dispatch, and there are opportunities for staff to take on degree-level apprenticeships – three of our team have already completed a degree apprenticeship in leadership and management with Sunderland University.

What challenges did you and your apprentices face during COVID-19 and how did you overcome them?

When the pandemic hit, the question was whether we could continue to provide training on site for our apprentices. And could our apprentices still work alongside experienced staff in a meaningful way? It became clear that we could introduce the necessary social distancing and other precautions and still be able to carry on.

Another question was whether our training providers, like SETA, who we work with very closely, were still operating. We verified that they were, and that some of the training would now take place over Zoom. So we haven’t faced too much real disruption, we have just had to change the format of what we do, and people have had no problems with adhering to the guidelines.

What value do your apprentices bring to the business?

The value is immeasurable. Our apprenticeship scheme means that we can counteract any problems that might arise due to an ageing workforce, or difficulty in recruiting skilled tradespeople. This way we train our own staff and we bring skilled young people into the business. Apprenticeships aren’t a cost, they are an investment into a sustainable future.

What advice for other businesses hoping to work with apprentices potentially during lockdown?

It would be a big, big mistake to stop offering apprenticeships. It’s crucial that companies are still prepared to invest in apprenticeships despite the current situation – what you don’t invest in now, you will miss tomorrow.

Find information and guidance for businesses on hiring an apprentice on the North East Growth Hub.