An education in employment

If you hear the word ‘apprentice’ these days you might be forgiven for instantly picturing Lord Alan Sugar pointing his finger at some dimwit in his boardroom and muttering the immortal line ‘you’re fired!’ – but the tradition of real apprenticeships in the UK dates all the way back to the 12th century.
Some of the world’s most famous, rich and powerful men began their careers as apprentices – from historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, Vincent Van Gogh and Leonardo da Vinci to renowned celebrities like Elvis Presley, Sir Alex Ferguson, Gordon Ramsay and Eric Clapton – even Darth Vader learned his craft under Obi Wan Kenobi!

The ‘golden age’ of apprenticeships in the UK ran from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, providing training in manufacturing and engineering.

Unfortunately, the majority of the workforce was schooled in industries that declined rapidly from 1973 onwards; a decline that proved permanent for most.
Traditional apprenticeships reached their lowest point in the 1980s and training programmes deteriorated. By 1990, with no government support, apprenticeships made up only two-thirds of one per cent of total employment.

Four years later the government responded to concerns over skills shortages in the UK by announcing plans for a new apprenticeship scheme, one that has evolved in to what we know today. Chris takes up the story:

“In 2003 I was still a year away from finishing my A levels but I’d started to get restless. I’ve always been a pretty ‘hands on’ guy and while I wanted to carry on with my studies I felt the urge to make my mark in the world of employment – and also earn some much needed cash of course!

“The idea of learning while working and getting paid at the same time seemed like the perfect harmony to me so I applied to a local recruitment company that specialised in setting up apprenticeships.

“My dad’s an electrician so I had a notion of following in his footsteps but after my initial interview they suggested that I seemed much better suited to a career in manufacturing engineering – and before I knew it I was working as an apprentice toolmaker at HL Plastics (HLP).

“At that time I was the first apprentice that the company had employed for about 20 years. As a naïve, 17-year-old pup it was a daunting experience to be in a tool room environment surrounded by a bunch of 40-year-old blokes. But they were obviously vastly experienced and that was great for me to soak up some of their expertise.

“I worked four days a week and attended college on the other, which was a really nice mix and helped me stay on track rather than getting stuck in a rut and losing focus. The support I received from my tutors and supervisors was also vital.

“One of the main advantages of an apprenticeship is the all-round on-the-job experience you gain, especially when paired with what you’re learning at college. You get the perfect combination of education while at the same time gaining real life experience and putting the theory into practice – and vice versa.

“A lot of people say that you only really learn something by actually doing it and I’m a great believer in that.

“After completing my three year apprenticeship and achieving my NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Engineering, I was encouraged to continue my education with an FDSc (Foundation Degree in Science), gaining a Higher National Diploma in Manufacturing Engineering three years later.

“A year later I had been promoted to Tool Room Manager, before becoming a Design Draughtsperson – and in 2013, 10 years after joining HL Plastics as a 17-year-old apprentice, I’d worked my way up to be the manager of the Design & Development department.

“HLP is now very much a pro-apprentice business. Four years ago I took on my own ‘young padawan’, James Burke – so I’ve seen the scheme from both sides.

“James showed a huge passion and drive for engineering which made him an ideal candidate to be an apprentice. It’s the main qualification you need to succeed in my opinion. As long as you’re hardworking and keen to learn, then we can instil the essential knowledge required to advance.
“He’s since completed his apprenticeship with the highest grades, is now studying for his HND and showing great maturity by taking our latest apprentice, Sam, under his wing and helping him along in the department and with his college work.
“In fact, out of the six members of staff in our department, five of us either started at the company as an apprentice or is currently one.

“And this is a philosophy that runs through the entire company. Our managing director, Roger Hartshorn, not only started as an apprentice himself, but has two of his own children now working at the company. His daughter, Shona, is serving her apprenticeship in our department, while her brother, Ross, learned his trade in the tool room.

“In fact, Ross was named Derby College Apprentice of the Year in 2014, and the outstanding workbooks he created have since been adopted as the template for all future students on the course. He’s now got several apprentices working under him.”

With 10 past or present apprentices currently employed, Liniar is leading the way in developing tomorrow’s talent – and with grants and funding available for smaller companies thinking of taking on apprentices of their own, this route is not just accessible to the larger firms in the industry.

So there you have it – perfect proof that with the right attitude, ambition and a desire to learn, an apprenticeship with a forward-thinking company is a fantastic way to begin your career path.

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