LEP Apprenticeship Hub Programme hits 1,000 milestone


A scheme that makes it easier for small to medium sized businesses to recruit apprentices has reached a major milestone.
One thousand SMEs have signed up to take on an apprentice through the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Apprenticeship Hub Programme.

The programme provides free and independent advice to SMEs who want to find out about the benefits and practical steps involved in recruiting an apprentice.

Now, more SMEs are being urged to sign up to the scheme. A new website has been launched to showcase the opportunities to employers as well as parents and young people across the region. Go to apprenticeship-hubs.co.uk.

Roger Marsh, Chair of Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership, said: “Apprenticeships are a great way of growing your business and developing new talent at the same time. The LEP is committed to encouraging more SMEs to train apprentices which will in turn drive economic growth, tackle skills shortages and improve career prospects for young people across the region.

"Our Apprenticeship Hubs Programme is active across the entire City Region and ready to support employers to take the first step in opening up their employment opportunities. We are delighted that 1,000 SMEs in the region have already benefitted from this support and we urge more to follow suit to realise their own potential.”

The LEP Hub Programme runs across ten local authority areas after being launched last year. The hubs are based in Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, North Yorkshire (comprising Craven, Harrogate and Selby), Wakefield and York.

The programme also includes two apprenticeship training agencies (ATAs) in Leeds and Bradford. The ATAs are separate companies set up by the local authorities with local colleges to employ apprentices on behalf of businesses - to offer a real incentive to those who haven’t employed an apprentice before or who don’t have the human resources capability in-house.

The hubs and ATAs are targeting SMEs that have not previously offered apprenticeships at all or during the last year. Funding for the programme has been secured by the LEP through the government's City Deal initiative as part of wider moves to tackle youth unemployment and boost business growth.

His Royal Highness The Duke of York KG backed the initiative when he visited Leeds earlier this year to hear about the launch and success of the programme during National Apprenticeship Week.

The Duke addressed SMEs at a business conference organised by the LEP at the Royal Armouries to encourage them to recruit an apprentice. His Royal Highness highlighted the positive contribution that apprentices make to businesses, and the high quality careers opportunities that apprenticeships offer to young people.

Case study

First Locate is one of the 1,000 SMEs which have signed up to the hub programme. The call centre, based in Leeds city centre, is planning to triple the number of apprentices it already has this financial year. Three new apprentices started in March 2014 as part of a brand new financial services apprenticeship qualification, developed with several partners including the National Skills Academy For Financial Services. The company is looking to increase its apprentices from three to 14 so that it has six apprentices in Leeds, four in Scarborough and four in Woking.

The boss’s view

Chris Shaw, Learning and Development Manager, First Locate, said: “Leeds is the call centre capital of the north and the potential for business expansion is significant. We want people with a strong work ethic, a good attitude and some get up and go. That’s all I’m after. The rest will follow. In return we give our apprentices the experience, training and work and life skills.”

Apprentices complete a structured three-week induction where they learn all aspects of the business. They each spend six months with the trace team, where they learn how to locate customers, and six months with the debt collection team where they learn about debt recovery.

Chris Shaw added: “Having a blank canvas is a good thing. You can shape apprentices’ skills to your business needs so long as you get the right attitude, and that’s attractive to me. You don’t have barriers to break through. Other workers with lots of experience can be resistant to change saying they’ve done things differently before.

“Apprentices make great workers, as long as you are prepared to invest time in their training. You also have to be prepared for the fact that not all of the recruits will work out but the return on those who do is definitely worth the investment.”

The apprentice’s view

The opportunity to become an apprentice at First Locate has been life changing for Louis Smith, aged 18. He is completing a new apprenticeship specialising in financial services, after being out of work for nearly two years. Louis specialises in debt collection and his job involves calling individuals and businesses to retrieve the money they owe to energy and utility companies.

He is one of three new apprentices who started on March 31st 2014 as part of a brand new national financial services apprenticeship qualification. It has been developed with several partners including First Locate, and the National Skills Academy For Financial Services. Other organisations involved include Leeds ATA, Leeds City College, and the Credit Services Association.

Louis said: “Accounting and finance appealed to me as well as earning while I learn. I liked the idea of working with numbers. I wanted to develop practical experience, rather than being sat in a classroom all the time. I really enjoy the job and being in the work environment. It’s rebuilt my confidence and changed my life.

“Some of the calls can be difficult - I remember the first one that I made just like my first day at school - but you can rely on your training. You work within strict rules and regulations and I feel very supported by colleagues. I like the fact that I get out of my comfort zone at work. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and I get a sense of satisfaction from meeting my targets.”

Louis was unemployed for nearly two years after leaving school with B and C grade GCSEs and BTEC diplomas. Life felt a real struggle. “I applied for around 90 jobs before getting this apprenticeship. Sometimes, there were 50 people applying for one or two vacancies. My mates would go to the cinema and shopping. I couldn’t go out, as I had no money. It was a real struggle to see my friends. I ended up sweeping my mate’s garage just to do something with my time and earn a bit of money,” he recalls.

“I got in a really bad state. At one point, I just broke down. I tried so hard to get work. It was very demoralising because you feel totally rejected. Getting this apprenticeship has changed my life. My advice is never give up. You have to keep pushing, no matter how bad it gets, even if it takes one year, two or even three. Now I feel confident and proud of myself.”