Ahead of the learning curve

Pictured left to right: Steve Jones (Director of Learning for STEM at Tra ord College), Katrina O’Brien, (former apprentice), Ashleigh Yates (apprentice) and Theresa Grant (GMCA Lead Chief Executive for Skills and Employment)
Pictured left to right: Steve Jones (Director of Learning for STEM at Tra ord College), Katrina O’Brien, (former apprentice), Ashleigh Yates (apprentice) and Theresa Grant (GMCA Lead Chief Executive for Skills and Employment)

Apprentices will play a key role in driving forward the economy of the North West – and Greater Manchester is helping to drive up their numbers

By Frank Simpson

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When the government set out its target to deliver three million apprentice­ships by 2020, Greater Manchester listened.  In light of the ever-changing skills landscape, SuperNorth looks at the innovative approach to apprentice­ships being taken by Greater Manchester through one of the new pilot projects, and considers the role apprenticeships have to play in driving the northern economy forward.

With the North West accounting for the largest number of apprenticeship starts as a share of the population in 2014-15, and other Northern regions not far behind, you would be forgiven for thinking that the North had appren­ticeships covered. But with the changing skills landscape of devolution, skills policy, funding and framework reforms, Northern regions must now consider the local economic demand and qual­ity of apprenticeships, alongside the number of starts.

The government’s ambition to reach three million new apprentice starts by 2020 demanded a reaction from local authorities, Further Education insti­tutions, providers and businesses alike. Greater Manchester took up the challenge to grow the market for apprenticeships in the region, and has been targeting both young people and employers in their efforts to support the government’s target.

Navigating the government’s attempts to fine-tune the system of apprenticeship funding and provision highlighted the need for a joined up approach to skills in Greater Manchester – one that considered bridging the gap between the supply and demand of skills in the region to ensure apprenticeships remained relevant to the local economy.

As a result, in Greater Manchester the apprenticeship agenda has been seam­lessly linked with the region’s growth ambitions, recognising the unique opportunity apprenticeships provide to align entry level candidates with the needs of the employers.

As one of the government’s first ‘City Deals’, announced in November 2014, Greater Manchester’s Combined Authority created an Apprenticeship and Skills Hub to bring together stra­tegic and delivery partners from across the city region, to work together to increase the scale, breadth and quality of apprenticeships in the city region.

The £6m Greater Manchester Appren­ticeship Hub City Deal programme, supported by the Skills Funding Agency and the (then) Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was created to a) maximise employer take up of appren­ticeships in Greater Manchester’s key sectors, b) improve information, advice and guidance services for young people, and c) develop the capacity of providers ensuring supply is matched to demand.

Through the City Deal programme, Greater Manchester is tackling both sides of the equation – working with young people in the region to prepare them to meet the needs of their future employers through a diverse range of projects including the Greater Manches­ter Apprenticeship Company (GMAC), and also engaging and supporting employers to take on more apprentices through employer-focused City Deal-funded projects. Through this two-pronged approach, the region is tackling the existing gaps in provision, piloting new approaches, and laying the foundations for the creation of a pool of skilled talent that matches the needs of the region’s future economy.

GMAC, which launched as a national first in June 2016, is a ground-breaking partnership between nine colleges from the Greater Manchester Colleges Group, and leading training provider The Skills Company. The innovative partner­ship has been designed to get existing learners across the partnership ‘apprenticeship-ready’ and in turn accelerate the uptake of apprenticeships in Greater Manchester. By developing young peo­ple’s capacity to hit the ground running when they enter the world of work, the partnership aims to help respond to the needs being expressed by Greater Manchester’s employers and residents.

Through the collaboration and shar­ing of resources, GMAC aims to reshape and realign the project partners’ skills offer across Greater Manchester, to ensure a more efficient match between the skills local employers are looking for and those that are being prioritised by Further Education institutions and training providers.

Theresa Grant, GMCA lead for skills and employment, said: “We have learned, from talking to employers, that in order to meet their skills needs – and therefore those of the economy – we need to look at not just the skills that are needed for the job but also at readiness for work. With this in mind, there’s a clear need for providers – right the way through from schools to Further Education – to prepare young people with the right attitude for entering the workplace and with the tools and aspirations to take advantage of the opportunities open to them. By providing young people with clear progression pathways and lines of sight to employment or further learn­ing, as well as with the right information and guidance, we equip them with the knowledge and experience needed to be productive employees.

“There is a proud heritage in the North West of apprenticeships that underpinned the industrial era that Greater Manchester and the wider region is recognised for. However, that landscape has changed and the emerg­ing sectors in Greater Manchester, such as life sciences, digital and media, mean that our apprenticeship offer needs to respond to and reflect apprenticeship trends today and for the future. By working collaboratively we are able to address the specific skills needed for these sectors, creating opportunities for young people that might otherwise not be available to them.”

Marie Gilluley, Principal at Bolton College, praised the GMAC partner­ship’s refreshing approach to promoting apprenticeships, saying: “In recognis­ing the need to collaborate rather than compete, we have pooled our combined knowledge and expertise to develop brand new resources and support – inspiring more students to take up an apprenticeship in their chosen career and accelerating apprenticeship growth in Greater Manchester.

“Together we have a collective employer base of over 20,000 businesses, and a learner base of 120,000 learners annually. With this huge reach spread across the region, we have a unique opportunity to work in collaboration and leverage our combined connections to maximise apprenticeship take up and employer engagement.”

Central to the partnership is the crea­tion of an online careers portal, designed to support and inspire learners as they look to progress onto an apprentice­ship. ‘This Is Me’ is exclusively available to young people studying with GMAC providers across Greater Manchester, providing them with 24/7 support and access to a range of resources including a CV-builder, video-based mock inter­views, tips from employers and a hub of live vacancies in the region. The tool is being cleverly integrated into each pro­vider’s website to ensure a consistent level of support across the partnership.

Helen Hawxwell, Programme Devel­opment and Delivery Manager for GMAC, said: “Since we launched the ‘This Is Me’ apprenticeship portal in September the feedback from learners and tutors has been extremely positive. With the combined expertise of the partnership, we have been able to develop a tool that can provide the advice and guidance young people con­sidering an apprenticeship really need, and this will increase the volume and calibre of candidates applying for those hard to fill vacancies in the region.”

While GMAC and other initiatives are providing the much-needed support for young people across the region, other Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Hub-funded projects are working closely with businesses of all sizes to help them navigate the changes to funding and frameworks, so that they can make informed decisions about the opportunities that Apprenticeships offer within their workforce development and talent management activity. By estab­lishing the vital link between learners and employers, Greater Manchester is working hard to drive up the number of relevant apprenticeships in the region to ensure that they contribute to eco­nomic growth.

To find out more about the Greater Manchester Apprenticeship Company, contact project lead, Helen Hawxwell gmac@apprenticeshipgrowth.co.uk