The Rachel Papers

Our Apprenticeship Manager’s report from the NFCC Apprenticeship Conference, National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire, February 7 2023:

“The cockles of my heart soon felt a temperature boost on a frosty February morning on my arrival at the beautiful Arboretum.

NFCC’s Penny Newton opened the conference with a warm welcome to all including representatives from UK Fire and Rescue Services, training providers including, of course, Xact and End Point Assessment organisations.

NFCC Apprenticeship Leads Ashleigh Roberts, of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, and Devon and Somerset’s Gavin Ellis addressed the gathering:

Gavin shared his experience of starting his career as an HGV apprentice. He told how he used apprenticeships in his brigade to expand diversity in the workforce and career opportunities.

Ashleigh gave an insight into her role as an employer provider and shared her vision of developing an apprenticeship network, coordinated by the NFCC, to ensure that apprenticeships are fit for purpose.

This was music to my ears having spent many months as part of a trailblazer group, the aim of which was to review both Levels 3 and 4 Fire Safety Apprenticeship programmes.

My mission there was to ensure that they were developed to meet all customers’ requirements and priorities. So I am more than confident Xact’s will exceed the “fit-for-purpose” goal. The proof will be in the pudding when our first cohort starts our Level 4 Fire Safety Inspector Apprenticeship programme next month.

Head of Apprenticeship Engagement and Governance for the Cabinet Office Mike Baker was welcomed next.

To a rapt audience, Mike provided the latest statistics for what is the sixteenth year celebrating National Apprenticeship Week, noting that 2022 saw an 8.6 per cent growth in new apprenticeships.

Mike, who began his career working on the frontline in jobcentres, outlined how supporting people into employment changes lives for the better and how apprenticeships furthered this aim, providing opportunity and knowledge transfer. 

 “Keep changing lives” through apprenticeships was his clear message

Over coffee, stimulating chat continued around what was required to give apprenticeships the recognition and status they deserve.

At this point, I recalled a conversation with Xact’s current Business Administration Apprentice Jamie, an extremely impressive young man who opted, with much careful consideration, for an apprenticeship over university because it meant a faster and more cost-effective route for him to gaining the employability wanted. See Sporty Jamie scores with Xact.

I also reflected that the recent move to embed qualifications into apprenticeships is likely to make them more attractive to both employers and employees alike.

How this works can be seen with Xact’s Level 4 Fire Safety Inspector Apprenticeship which now incorporates the essential Level 4 Diploma in Fire Safety as a mandatory qualification. See New Standard triggers budget boost.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Ian Leigh, who is the NFCC’s Technical Policy Officer, both entertained and informed with a telling of his journey into the world of apprenticeships via the trailblazer groups.

Ian stressed that background development work is integral to making apprenticeships successful for employers, urging individuals to: “Support the process, as an apprenticeship is not the only outcome.”

He further explained that out of the seven fire specific apprenticeships available to Fire Services, three have been developed specifically to ensure a structured career path within fire protection: Level 3 Fire Safety Advisor, Level 4 Fire Safety Inspector and Level 6 Fire Safety Engineer

He highlighted that apprenticeships offered Fire Services an opportunity to develop and upskill individuals into valuable roles at a time when an increased demand for competent fire safety regulators existed.

Conference ended with a round-table discussion including apprenticeships as a route to developing future leaders – which is definitely food for thought in a skills shortage and when plotting a career path.

The main takeaway for me was a heightened awareness of the commitment that is dedicated to championing apprenticeships ensuring that the opportunities they offer really do improve lives.

Rachel Willis

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