The learning curve
As the UK government prepares to launch a levy on large businesses to fund greater participation in apprenticeships, National Grid’s Head of Education and Skills Tony Moloney explains why it’s the quality – not quantity – of these programmes that matters.
The learning curve
"We’re proud of our programmes and they’re viewed by many experts externally as outstanding examples of best practice."
Tony Moloney, National Grid’s Head of Education and Skills.
Over the last 10 years we have recruited over 1,300 young people in to our apprenticeship and graduate programmes.
Source: National Grid.
This week is National Apprenticeship Week and at National Grid apprenticeships are something we value very highly.
We take on around 200 apprentices each year on a range of gas and electricity programmes, and schemes like ours give youngsters across the whole social spectrum a great start to their professional lives. They learn the job from the ground up while building their academic knowledge, growing as individuals and earning while they learn.
Apprenticeships are just as positive for businesses and the wider economy. We know from experience that they help build a loyal, productive, engaged and skilled workforce. We’ve been providing quality programmes at National Grid for decades. They’re essential to our success and the growth of our industry as a whole.
With such obvious benefits, it’s no surprise that the UK government is keen to increase participation. Next year, they’ll introduce a new levy on large businesses like ours – impacting those with an annual payroll of more than £3m. The levy will help fund targets to raise the number of apprenticeships in the UK from 2.4 million in the last parliament to three million in this one.
We welcome the fact that the government’s strategy is to put apprenticeships centre stage. However, it can’t ever be the only strategy. To have a well-defined and capable future workforce, you need different entry points into the market – not least graduates.
But we welcome the intent. And while we wouldn’t have chosen the levy route, we remain open minded and will work closely with the government to take this important work forward.
There’s a huge demand for engineers in the UK and it’s growing all the time. The National Infrastructure Plan, for example, will inject £411bn into the country’s infrastructure in the next 10 years. Some 59% of that will be coming to the energy sector – and it will require a huge amount of new engineers to deliver it.
As National Grid’s Head of Education and Skills, I know that the success of apprenticeships depends on the quality of programmes that our youngsters follow. We’re proud of our programmes and they’re viewed by many experts externally as outstanding examples of best practice.
They bring demonstrable results for our business, with 95% of our apprentices completing their programmes on time and over 85% are still working for us five years later.
Quality over quantity
Historically, apprenticeships have had quality at their heart. Go back to the journeymen and craftsmen of the past. They passed on a valued trade or skill to the next generation. You had the mastery of a trade built up over generations and it was typical for an apprentice to be in service for six or seven years.
They were a badge of honour, teaching a high level of skill to the apprentice that would set them up for life. It’s important that this quality ethic lives on in modern apprenticeships.
You won’t recruit the best talent if you don’t have credibility in your programme. If you really want ambitious youngsters to consider an apprenticeship, you need to offer them a high-skilled programme that gives them a real opportunity to land a high-skilled role. Youngsters need to feel sure they’re investing their time and effort in something worthwhile.
Putting it into practice
A key strength of National Grid’s apprenticeships – and something that every programme should replicate – is how we link academic study to on-the-job training. So it’s important that apprentices get the opportunity to put theory into practices quickly, to embed learning.
You need to provide good training, good education and good culture right from the outset. If you set out the right expectations for your apprentices, how they’re expected to conduct themselves individually and in teams from the beginning, you instil a quality mindset. As they build skills and experience, you’ll be able to rely on them to deliver great customer service and a great product, whatever industry you operate in.
Setting the standard
We run a fabulous academy at Eakring, in Nottinghamshire, which provides a clear, well-designed framework for our apprentices. Programme Managers are assigned to each individual to take care of their development and ensure they have the support they need. It’s a place where individuals can personally grow and we get fabulous results.
Over the last 10 years we have recruited over 1,300 young people in to our apprenticeship and graduate programmes. All our roles are high-skilled, top-end entry level routes into employment and we’re committed to nurturing young talent.
By running well-defined programmes, we develop employees who are loyal to the business and highly engaged. Their morale and productivity are excellent. Apprenticeships are a vital part of our recruitment mix. They’re essential to ensuring we have a capable and talented workforce for the future.