Special report: Young people urged to take up apprenticeship schemes

WITH almost 300 18-24 year olds from across Uttlesford claiming Jobseekers Allowance – and one in five in the UK currently out of work – reporter Sam Tonkin looks at the potential rebirth of the apprenticeship and how it could redefine career prospects for young people in the district...

HUNDREDS of unemployed youngsters from Uttlesford have been urged by businesses to look to apprenticeship schemes in a bid to avoid a generation being thrown on the scrapheap.

Businesses across the district have championed a �3.5million initiative by Essex County Council (ECC) which they say gives young people a realistic alternative to forking out for increasing university tuition fees.

The scheme was launched in September 2009. Only last week it was announced a �280,000 grant from the European Social Fund, matched by the council (total �560,000), is being pledged towards apprenticeships locally.

Despite dozens of places available in Uttlesford, however, youngsters in the district having been relatively slow to snap up opportunities in comparison to the rest of the county.

Chairman of Newport Business Association, Jeremy Rose, gave his backing to the apprenticeship scheme – which he believes gives young people a “sense of worth early on in their lives”.

“We have been championing apprenticeship schemes in Uttlesford through the association since July,” he said.

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“They give young people a chance to get a grip on business, learn important skills and gain valuable experience.”

Mr Rose said the initiative was not only a wonderful opportunity for young people to follow their desired career path but also one that was a huge benefit for local businesses.

“Saffron Apparel took on two apprentices thanks to funding from ECC. It has allowed it to grow and at the same time has given the young people they took on the responsibility of working in business and learning new skills,” he said.

“It is a big opportunity for local businesses and one they should not miss out on.”

Richard Swain, chairman of the Saffron Walden Business Forum, and Mike Perry, chairman of the Dunmow Chamber of Commerce, also threw their weight behind the initiative.

Mr Swain said: “I think apprenticeship schemes are a brilliant idea. We have taken one on at Force36 [Mr Swain’s IT consultancy firm] and he is fantastic.

“I think most apprentices are probably able to get a job, as long as they are motivated, have an interest in a particular field and show a willingness to learn.

“Companies can benefit from them because they are acquiring young minds that can be trained up to understand the ethos of a business and grow within it.

“But I don’t think enough businesses in Uttlesford know how to go about getting an apprentice and what the benefits are.”

“Apprentices are young, resourceful and eager individuals who just want to be given the chance to progress in a career and are some of the most motivated individuals businesses will ever come across.”

Essex county councillor for Stansted, Ray Gooding, has been an avid supporter of the apprenticeship scheme.

He said the initiative gives young people looking to get their first step on the career ladder a viable alternative to higher education.

“Many young people look at university as the be all and end all to a successful career,” he said. “But with the recent increase in tuition fees, the council is offering a possible alternative which would see them receive money for their training rather than having to pay for it.”

Apprenticeship opportunities available to young people vary enormously, from placements in construction, logistics and building services, to hairdressing, engineering and administration.

However, Cllr Gooding stressed that more needs to be done to change people’s attitudes towards apprenticeships so as not to put youngsters off taking that career path.

“I would like to see schools promoting apprenticeship opportunities as a worthwhile route rather than them being seen as a vocational one which is in some way sub-standard,” he added.

“It doesn’t mean that young people interested in apprenticeships are in anyway less intelligent, it just means that they know what it is they want to do straight out of school and for which the training is available.”

He also emphasised that not only do apprentices get paid for learning a profession, but they also have a very real chance of gaining a full-time job at the end of their training.