Is there a typical apprentice? Lecturer Nick Rodney thinks not. Here he explains…

Imagine the average UK apprentice and what comes to mind? A young person with few qualifications who won’t earn much in an undemanding role?

If that’s your idea of an apprenticeship, then I would have to strongly disagree. This has not been my experience, nor is it the description of the average UK apprentice or that of an Engineering apprentice at the National College for Advanced Transport & Infrastructure (NCATI).

The call to arms for the 2020 National Apprenticeship Week is not only to ‘Get Fired Up’ but to ‘Look Beyond’ the typical idea of an apprentice and the typical route employers take in the sector to hiring new staff. I wholly support this idea as the apprentices I have taught have come from a variety of backgrounds and abilities with differing interests.

In reality, the average UK apprentice who started in 2018/2019 was aged over 25 and the age bracket with the largest increase in apprenticeship starts were 35 to 44. 44% of those apprenticeships were at an advanced level with 13% at Higher level (Parliament, 2020). For Engineering apprentices, salaries can range from £21,000 – £30,000 depending on the employer. So the typical UK apprentice is older and the typical Engineering apprentice will earn more than minimum wage.

The College was established to address the skills gap in the UK Engineering sector and that gap still needs to be addressed as large-scale infrastructure projects continue to take place such as HS2, Network Rail CP6, Crossrail, smart motorways and the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme. Those starting training now will be the workforce that brings these projects into being. Alongside addressing the skills gap the College is working to help bring about a more gender and ethnically diverse workforce to the British transport sector.

There was almost an even split of women to men starting any apprenticeship in the UK but unfortunately, only 6.8% of engineering apprenticeships starts were by women in 2015/2016 (WISE, 2017). Between 2008/2009 to 2017/2018 there has been a slight increase in apprentices from ethnic minority backgrounds from 6.7% to 11.1% (Gov, 2019).

As a lecturer in Command, Control & Communication (CCC) and Systems Engineering, I have over 20 years of industrial experience teaching apprentices from some of the leading companies in the transport sector including Arup, Amey, Atkins and XRAIL. CCC systems ensure the safe operation of trains on the railways by keeping trains running at optimal speeds and junctions clear of traffic through intelligent digital communications systems. The apprentices I have worked with have not only been those new recruits but staff looking to move up the ladder, advance with the times and changing technologies.

For every apprentice vacancy NCATI advertises, over 30 applicants apply, the demand for roles is there, industry employers simply need to invest in their own future. The proof is in the numbers with 86% of apprenticeship employers benefit from increased productivity and employee satisfaction while reducing staff turnover and recruitment costs (Gov, 2017).

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