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Home » Apprenticeships » Apprenticeships secure overlooked talent and must be accessible to all

James Jennings

Apprenticeship Manager, Centrica

Darsan Patel

Information Systems Apprentice, Centrica

Susan McLean

SMART Apprentice, Centrica

Apprenticeships are a way to make workforces more skilled and diverse. That’s why it’s essential they are open to everyone, regardless of their age, background and gender.

Apprenticeships give employers the chance to recruit and train from a wide pool of untapped talent. That much is obvious. Yet they also offer companies the opportunity to build diverse workforces — a strategy that will be central to their future success.

Take Centrica, the energy services and solutions company, which has committed to recruit 3,500 apprentices by 2030, with 1,000 of these in place by 2022. What’s more, the aspiration is that 50% will be women.

“Our view is that apprenticeships should be accessible to everyone,” insists James Jennings, Centrica’s Apprenticeship Manager. “We look at an individual’s attributes, personality and attitudes rather than their academic qualifications or background. It’s more important for us to recruit apprentices who are agile, innovative and have the right values.”

An expanding and changing industry offering a variety of roles

Today’s energy industry doesn’t exclusively offer engineering apprenticeships, notes Jennings. The sector is changing, different skills and specialisms are needed across the board and opportunities for women are increasing exponentially in a variety of roles from IT to digital data marketing.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that apprenticeships are only for school or college-leavers, either. For example, Darsan Patel — a 43 year old married father of three — worked in a range of customer services positions in Centrica for around 12 years, but two months ago made an internal move and became an Information Systems Apprentice. “I always wanted to have a trade under my belt,” explains Patel. “Plus, IT has long been an interest, so this was a terrific opportunity.”

The support I’ve been offered is fantastic. I have two mentors who help me with anything that I need.

Darsan Patel

Patel has a packed personal life. “With three children there was no way I could go back to college,” he says. “I saw an apprenticeship as a way for me to gain qualifications without having to return to full-time education — which is great because I’m a person with drive who wants to learn. If there’s a meeting, I’m there 10 minutes ahead of time, prepping and looking through my notes.”

In truth, Patel was a bit nervous about heading back to the classroom after so long – but his fears have been short-lived. “The support I’ve been offered is fantastic. I have two mentors who help me with anything that I need; and a special educational needs co-ordinator has been assigned to me. She’s offered lots of assistance and given me advice about the types of coping strategies that could help with my studies.”

Meeting net zero ambitions for businesses and their customers

Apart from securing overlooked talent, apprenticeships also deliver the green skills of the future. That’s crucial if energy companies such as Centrica are to meet net zero ambitions for themselves and their customers. It’s good for employees, too, who want relevant training that will help them progress in their careers. Susan McLean had been part of the British Gas team for more than a decade, working as a Team Leader and a Project Manager on electric vehicles. Passionate about net zero and green skills, she recently decided to retrain as a Centrica SMART Apprentice.

“After more than 10 years, I was definitely up for a new challenge,” explains McLean. “I’d always seen female engineers in the office and thought: ‘I want to do that’. When I saw that the business was targeting female apprentices and was trying to close the gender gap, I saw it as the perfect chance to put my electric vehicles expertise to good use, meet customers face-to-face and get out and learn new skills that will benefit me.”

The fact is, says Jennings, well-run apprenticeships are good for companies and their workforces. “They are strong staff retention tools that deliver diversity and expertise,” he says. “These are key ingredients to sustain and grow a business.”

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