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Breaking down old ideas around apprenticeships

21 January 2015

Gloucestershire Echo Business Writer, Bev Hawes, met our Principal Matthew Burgess to speak exclusively about apprenticeships at Gloucestershire College and his mission to change outdated perceptions. 

Read the full interview here:

It is no exaggeration to say that Matthew Burgess is a man on a mission. And at the heart of his leadership of the county’s biggest single training provider, Gloucestershire College, is the apprenticeship – not a stereotype training model to provide manpower for factories but a first step on a worthwhile career ladder that is constantly evolving. 

Mr Burgess said: “I do passionately believe there is no substitute for experience. The apprenticeship ticks all the boxes. Personally I am really interested in business and I am also interested in our young people and how they develop as citizens. The apprenticeship is the perfect model, I think, to join the two things together. If our local employers are prosperous then there are going to be the jobs for our young people to go to. My mission is to make sure that the students who leave Gloucestershire College are able to compete for the best jobs, not the residual jobs.” 

The facts make compelling reading. Figures show apprentices will earn £50 a week more on average than their peers who do not take the work place training route. For every £1 spent developing an apprentice some £18 is invested back into the economy. They boost employees’ productivity by £214 a week. 

Mr Burgess took over as Principal and Chief Executive of Gloucestershire College in 2013 but previously, as college Vice Principal, had looked after strategy, resources and business development. Before that he was at Stockton College and started his career at audit, tax and advisory services group KPMG, where he trained. 

It is well known that nationally the UK is playing catch up with many of its overseas competitors when it comes to developing employment skills. Gloucestershire College launched a new strategic plan last September. That includes improving skills in maths and English and giving students success beyond college in areas such as workplace reliability and independence. 

Mr Burgess said: “We also have a big theme around linking with our community – that is something I feel very passionately about.”

Gloucestershire College will be rebranding its “offer” to employers this year. “There is going to be quite an exciting relaunch of our engineering provision,” said Mr Burgess.

“We are going to be lining up a more cohesive and comprehensive offer of professional training to support businesses across the county. We are maintaining the huge range of apprenticeships that we have, with 1,000 students going through the doors of the College every year.”

The College’s big plan over the next 12 months is the development of higher apprenticeships. Mr Burgess said: “We now need higher level skills and if you look particularly at the employment base of our county that is certainly the case.”

Indeed, over the past four years the College has run one of the few higher apprenticeship schemes in engineering. “We have run it with GE Aviation, the Bishop’s Cleeve-based aerospace company, which, I have to say, is a fantastic company,” said Mr Burgess. “Those apprentices come out with a foundation degree in engineering and very good prospects. This year the scope of higher apprenticeships at the College is being extended to include business, HR management, health care, construction, media and computing.

“I think it is really exciting,” he said. “There is a scheme called Trailblazer from the government that will subsidise the cost of this training for the employer pretty significantly over the next few years. So it really is very worthwhile employers getting involved.”

Mr Burgess said that although outdated perceptions of apprenticeships were changing, there was still much to do to convince parents and teachers, in particular. “Schools now have a statutory responsibility to provide independent careers advice and Ofsted are going to look at how effective that is.”

Interestingly, some 99 per cent of apprentices recently surveyed said they had made the right choice but only four per cent were given advice at school to follow the apprenticeship route. Traditionally many schools have focused on getting students into university rather than training through apprenticeships. But attitudes are now changing, with apprenticeships which could open the way to a profession such as accountancy.

Mr Burgess said: “Half of all apprentices in the county come through Gloucestershire College. That is partly because of the range we can offer and partly because of the very good links we have with employers. I also think it is because employers recognise that what comes out the other end is good for them.” He added: “The biggest skill that we can give people is for them to learn how to learn.”

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