Investing in skills: it’s easy to say, much harder for many businesses to do. Building up skills capabilities frequently takes a back seat to more immediate, pressing challenges. And, when it comes to apprenticeship programmes, many businesses will say that they lack the specialist HR skills to run them.
So wouldn’t it be an advantage if a lead contractor in an industry was to make available its capacity, resources and expertise in training and delivering apprenticeships?
In the north-west of England, that’s what BAE Systems is doing. Last year, it extended its apprenticeship programme to companies in its supply chain. Twenty-one apprentices from twelve companies started training last September. The scheme is part of the first phase of the Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot (here’s last year’s report).
With more than 1,000 employees spread across five sites in the UK, Magellan Aerospace doesn’t conform to a stereotypical SME. Indeed, some of its machining bays – in which it makes component parts for the wings of the Airbus A320 and A380 – count among the biggest in Europe. It is also not inexperienced in recruiting apprentices – its current apprenticeship pool numbers approximately 40. But even such a sophisticated supplier has its apprentices on BAE Systems’ initiative.
“We use BAE’s Training School at Preston because we believe that dedicated teams give apprentices the best chances to develop into tomorrows skilled craftsmen & engineers,” says Helena Shone, training manager (north) at Magellan Aerospace.
Even though engineering/manufacturing is the bedrock of high quality apprentices, only 12 per cent of the sector run apprentice programmes, says Richard Hamer, Education Director & Head of Early Career Programmes at BAE Systems.
There are several reasons why. There are concerns about the costs and/or the complexity of drawing down the funding that is available. Other companies have been burned by past experience: “if it takes 42 months for someone to complete an apprenticeship, you certainly don’t want that person to move on to another job immediately afterwards,” observes Hamer.
So even for BAE Systems, Hamer acknowledges that it was initially quite difficult to get small companies to participate. “I think that there was a lack of experience. The timescales are challenging; most small companies will look six months out but we were asking them to commit to investing in their apprentices for more than three years.”
On the job training and almost pastoral support
The foundation phase training in the first year and the technical certificate elements of the framework are delivered from BAE Systems’ dedicated training centre in Preston. It is a programme that is judged to be ”outstanding” by Ofsted. The on-the-job training in years two and three are provided by a range of placements within the apprentices’ own employers.
This “overtraining” programme has a dedicated manager plus other resources such as additional trainers, assessors and internal quality assurance. This type of support is almost pastoral in its nature. “We know in our DNA when to intervene and to address training and development issues among apprentices, which a smaller company may not,” explains Hamer.
It is, says Hamer, is “a step change in terms of our having greater responsibility for working together.”
BAE Systems has had very good feedback from the participating companies. The signs are that it is exceeding expectations. “We’re getting unprompted questions about next year’s programme,” says Hamer, “so I think that we have established the case.”
“They are realising our goals and by working with them we are able to employ fantastic apprentices,” says Helena.
Magellan Aerospace and BAE Systems are also both participating in the Apprentice Trailblazer project to develop a new Apprenticeship Standard that meet the skills needs of the aerospace industry.
Both these initiatives are part of a wider strategic agenda to increase the number and quality of apprentices in the aerospace/defence industries.
“We need to continuously develop skills throughout the supply chain,” says Helena Shone at Magellan Aerospace. That means that training has to be “fit for purpose,” suiting the precise needs of the industry. A shared framework will make it easier to keep skills within the industry as well as ensuring that suppliers can keep pace with the requirements of the major contractors.
“Small and medium-sized companies are vital for the economy,” says Hamer. “Making them strong and resilient for the future is absolutely crucial for BAE Systems to meet its long-term requirements.”
Big businesses have pledged to do more to make it easier for small businesses to grow as part of The Business Exchange. If you’re a small business, visit the Exchange to see what big businesses are offering, and how this might support your growth plans. If you’re a big business, pledge your offer of support on the Exchange today.