WITH the country marking the end of its seventh National Apprenticeships Week, new figures have revealed that Oxfordshire is bucking the trend when it comes to apprenticeships.
Almost five per cent more youngsters in the county are choosing the training-on-the-job route into work in 2012/13 compared to the previous year.
While the rest of the country has seen a 12 per cent decline in the take-up of apprenticeships, Oxfordshire saw a 4.7 per cent increase in the number of 16- to 18-year-olds starting apprenticeships during 2012/13, with a total of 1,187 new starters.
And there are a variety of events and workshops planned for the coming weeks to help the county’s school leavers find out more.
Once seen as a predominantly manual worker’s route into employment, apprenticeships have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, boosted by the recession, the introduction of costly university tuition fees, and perhaps even entrepreneur Sir Alan, now Lord Sugar’s popular television series, The Apprentice.
National figures are still relatively small compared to the number of people going on to higher education or straight into work.
In the first quarter of 2013/14, 108,000 people started an apprenticeship, while 495,000 students started a university course last autumn.
Apprenticeships are open to anyone aged 16 or above and normally last for between one and four years.
Apprentices are ‘taken-on’ by a company and paid at least the national minimum wage (between £2.86 for under-19s and £6.31 for those aged 21 and over).
Most also study for a qualification at college alongside their apprenticeship training, and employers also receive a £1,500 Government-funded grant towards the cost of taking them on.
Oxfordshire County Council recruits about 40 to 50 apprentices each year into 10 different schemes, including customer service, outdoor education, vehicle maintenance and civil engineering.
It also works with employers, large and small, to encourage them to use apprentices to help their businesses.
The council’s cabinet member for business and customer services, Nick Carter, said: “These numbers are very encouraging for Oxfordshire, as we know how valuable getting hands-on experience through an apprenticeship can be – both as a springboard to employment for the individual, and as a catalyst for the growth of our local economy.
“A commitment to creating more apprenticeship positions across Oxfordshire was also included in the recent City Deal agreement, which provides a fresh impetus for championing apprenticeships as an excellent option for young people, and for working with the Oxfordshire business community to create new opportunities right across the board.”
Owner of Oxford eBooks Ltd, Andy Severn, said taking on an apprentice has been an affordable and rewarding way of helping his business develop.
His firm is an eBook conversion and web design house based in Kennington, near Oxford.
Mr Severn started the business in 2010, after spending 25 years working in the video games industry.
He said: “I was working alone before my apprentice Nick Bracey joined me.
“I suppose I had become a victim of my own success as word of mouth spread and the work started rolling in.
“My only experience of apprenticeships before Nick was that my own dad had been one in the ‘olden days’ – and I guess like lots of people I saw them as something from the past.
“But I had started to notice the Government was publicising the scheme and I got a call out of the blue about it – and realised this could be the perfect fit.”
He continued: “As well as the grant you receive, which is extremely helpful, an apprentice is an enthusiastic member of staff who is really keen to learn and brings lots of energy to your company.”
Mr Bracey, 21, from Iffley, will soon be able to take over marketing, advertising, web content and social media to help publicise the company.
He was one of several prospective apprentices introduced to Mr Severn by the Digital Youth Academy, which matches young, up and coming ‘digital youth’ with prospective employers.
He said: “I was a year into a degree in London and some of my friends had already started apprenticeships.
“I started to feel that I wasn’t really getting the value and experience from my course to match the money I was spending, and that an apprenticeship could be a quicker and much less expensive route into the career I wanted.
“I was really pleased to be given this job because Andy has so much experience in gaming and coding and I can learn a lot from him.
“I started in September and am here for a year, before I hope Andy keeps me on.
“Being an apprentice means working for the minimum wage, but you are learning whilst not getting into debt.
“I think more and more young people are catching on to them.”
Clair Prosser, pictured below, policy executive at Oxfordshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Many businesses recognise the unique contribution that younger workers can make to their firms.
“Apprenticeships give young people the opportunity to learn a new skill, and give businesses the opportunity to teach them a trade that is specific to their business.
“Our message to businesses is: ‘take a chance and see for yourself the contribution that young people can make’.”
Powerful start to career
Engineer Lydia Feasey was voted the top apprentice in her field last year.
Miss Feasey, 22, left, who works at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE), was named 2013 Apprentice of the Year by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the world’s largest professional engineering society.
Now she has started working full time at the CCFE on projects to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source.
CREATING NEW OPPORTUNITIES
HANDS ON: Bradley Hookway, left, and Tom Wright, apprentices with Kidlington design company Hunts
Rising numbers of UK businesses plan to hire apprentices in the next few years. But new research suggests many parents are actually discouraging their children from becoming apprentices.
One in five smaller firms and more than a third of larger companies will be taking on at least one apprentice in the next 12 months.
British Airways will be taking on 185 this year in areas across its business, while BT is creating more than 700 new apprenticeships and Kwik Fit more than 150, with the majority available to 16- to 18-year-olds.
But a survey by Career Academies UK of 16- to 19-year-olds revealed that 41 per cent of parents had never mentioned apprenticeships, while 42 per cent said their parents would prefer them to go to university and seven per cent said their parents have actively discouraged them from the apprenticeship route.
‘Practical path’ led to job with CERN lab
Modern apprenticeships are now available at three levels – intermediate, advanced and higher levels (the last being equivalent to a degree) – and for some, like Fay Chicken, they can result in “out of this world” job prospects.
Miss Chicken, 24, pictured, from Bicester, went to The Cooper School in Bicester and on to Oxford and Cherwell College to take her AS and then A-Levels – but the science fan then took a drastic leap of faith.
She explained: “I decided I wanted to pursue a more ‘practical’ path and as I had just missed the application deadline for apprenticeships I worked for a local company for a year before applying for a job as an electric microscope technician at Oxford University.
“At the same time I started that, in September 2007, I started an engineering apprenticeship with ATG Training.”
Last year, Miss Chicken read that CERN, the world-famous physics lab in Geneva, where the so-called ‘God Particle’ was found, was advertising for a small number of recently-qualified technicians.
She said: “I did not think I would get in. People probably applied from all over Europe. But I did and I start work at CERN on April 1 with a year’s contract which will hopefully be extended.
“I think my parents were a bit concerned when I dropped out of studying for A-Levels. But I don’t think it makes sense for everyone to go to university and study for the same courses, gain the same qualifications and then come out hoping for the same jobs.
“I would never have imagined I would end up at a place like CERN. But it’s going to be very exciting for me.”
LEARNING A TRADE Thought to have their roots in medieval times, apprenticeships saw young people formally bound to a master to learn a trade.
s By the 16th century they were widely used in a range of occupations.
s The Statute of Apprentices of 1563 made apprenticeships compulsory for anyone who wished to enter a trade and remained on the statute book until 1814.
s In that period, no man could, in theory, set up as a master or workman until he had served his seven years’ apprenticeship.
s In 1601, the Overseers of the Poor were given powers to ‘bind’ or ‘apprentice out’ the children of paupers and vagrants and those ‘overburdened with children’.
s Anyone under 21 refusing to be an apprentice might be imprisoned until he or she found a master.
s And if a man had half a ploughland under tillage (the area he could cultivate in one year with one ox team), he was obliged to take an apprentice.
s With the growth of population at the end of the 18th century and the greater demand for goods, opportunities for work became more widely available and the use of formal apprenticeship, except in some skilled trades, began to decline.