Apprentices can help your company grow. That was the message from the latest Lancashire Means Business Leaders’ Lunch.
Business experts urged teenagers and would-be employers to consider apprenticeships as a route into working life.
The panel gathered at Runshaw Business Centre, Euxton Lane, Chorley, for a wide-ranging discussion.
Runshaw’s Adrian Roscoe was host for the day. He was joined by Neil Fleming of Pneumatic and Compressor Engineering (PACE) Ltd; Cathy O’Hara of the Double Glazing and Conservatory QA Ombudsman Scheme; Paul Farrington, of Haleys Chartered Accountants, and Tony Openshaw, small business adviser for Chorley Borough Council.
The discussion – about the value of apprenticeships – was held as some industry leaders were warning that the UK faces a “skill shortage” in the years ahead, particularly in engineering.
A recent survey showed two-thirds of North West companies plan to increase their intake of apprentices in future – giving youngsters a great start in a career and also reducing youth unemployment. Grants are available.
Adrian said: “Apprenticeships are great value for small businesses, particularly those businesses that invest in people. There are great opportunities to be had.”
He said there had been a misconception that university was the only way forward for many youngsters. Instead, a direct route into work was more suitable for many.
Neil Fleming added: “From our perspective, the energy and the enthusiasm that these youngsters bring in refreshes the older members of staff.
“They may have got used to working a particular way. New apprentices coming are asking why, how, how can we do it better, how can we improve ourselves? It helps everyone raise their game.”
Neil added that small firms would nurture the talents of an apprentice more, which benefited everyone.
He said: “More people work in small organisations than larger organisations, but we all push the aspirational students to go to these big organisations, where they are just a number, not a cherished employee.
“In smaller organisations like ours, we look after them.We have a five-year plan set for them. We know where we want them to be in five years.”
Paul said that, in accountancy, there was a recognised route to becoming a fully-qualified chartered accountant. That was the same regardless of the size of the firm, it was the quality of the training that differed.
He said: “If you have a strong training ethic, those students can learn very quickly and be an asset to that business very quickly.
“We have a member of staff aged 18 – she can see that in five years she will be a chartered accountant. She’s not had to worry about going to university, tuition fees and coming away with quite substantial levels of debt. Instead, she is seeing five years ahead.”
Tony said he recently met a company willing to relocate to Chorley. They had a plan to include five apprentices in IT support. They were looking not only at training them, but at the growth of the company once they were qualified.
Adrian said: “There has been a common misconception that university is what everyone should aspire to.
“Everyone should aspire to a good career. There are many ways of getting there – apprenticeships are just one good way of getting to that careers goal. Here, on A-levels results day there will be a lot of disappointed students who decide not go to on to university – they will decide to do an apprenticeship.”
Neil said there should not be too much focus on the academic side of things. There was a role for everybody – the route though college and an apprenticeship could be useful and teach an apprentice life skills.
Cathy said her apprentices were business administrators. One had joined on a temporary basis and found she enjoyed the work. Now she was moving on to take her NVQ 3.
Said Cathy: “She is doing really well. For her it has been a benefit and we’ve got other apprentices who have moved on to further studies.
“One of the girls is doing an HNC now. A few years down the line, she will have those extra qualifications and it can only benefit our business.”
Tony said it had to be remembered that apprentices also brought new ideas – for example social media skills – which existing employees may not have.
Adrian said students had to remember “skills pay the bills” – and that did not just mean academic skills.
He said there was a lot of “cross-fertilising” of ideas through communication between students at the Business Centre, and that helped everyone.
Neil stressed: “The guys that are starting today could be the managing director in 10 or 20 years time. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
The meeting was chaired by Lancashire Evening Post Business Editor David Nowell.
l The next issue of Lancashire Means Business is out next week