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Apprentices have a key role to play

Apprenticeships are set to play a major role in helping meet the country's future skills needs and hundreds of young people in Norfolk are stepping up to the mark. Following National Apprenticeship Week, business reporter SAM WILLIAMS speaks to current and former apprentices about their future aims.

Apprentices are vital to securing the skills needed for the country's future - and courses are growing in popularity, according to the head of a Norwich college.

Dick Palmer, principal at City College Norwich, said the courses also offered benefits for employers, by helping ensure their staff are adequately trained.

His comments follow Apprenticeship Week last week, backed by businessman Sir Alan Sugar in a series of television adverts designed to show employers the range of apprenticeships available.

Mr Palmer said: “Apprentices are really important as they are a different route into work for the individual themselves and an innovative way for employers to ensure that their new recruits come to them with the required skills sets they need to do the job.

“They are critical to the nation's economy because they provide a cost-effective way of ensuring that we have the levels of contemporary skills required for today's global markets, within our current workforce.

Waffle House apprentice chef William Perks.
“Apprentices are growing in popularity - at City College Norwich today we have over 600 apprentices and that number has increased by around 15pc in the last couple of years.”

He said the college was also planning to take on apprentices as an employer, offering a range of opportunities for young people to find work and training.

And he urged other companies to follow suit, adding: “The government has recently announced the release of additional funding to support even more apprenticeships this year, so there's never been a better time to think about employing an apprentice.

“And employers need to think out of the box - apprentices today are not simply in stereotypical areas such as the crafts such as bricklaying and plumbing, but are now available in the professions, too.

“One of the biggest contracts that City College Norwich has recently been successful in acquiring is for hundreds of apprentices in the financial services and call centre occupations.”

Chef William Perks admits he knew little about food when he started work at the Waffle House on St Giles Street.

But he hopes to follow in the footsteps of some of his former colleagues by cooking in a top London restaurant after gaining new skills on an apprenticeship.

Mr Perks, 19, is currently half way through a level three apprenticeship in hospitality and catering, which he studies for one day a week at City College Norwich while working the rest of the time at the restaurant.

Ben Rogers who was an apprentice at the Waffle House before becoming manager.
He said he had learnt a variety of new skills and techniques on the course, some of which he has been able to put into practice in a hands-on environment at the Waffle House.

Bosses at the restaurant have already seen at least eight chefs go through apprenticeships, with some having gone on to chef jobs working under top chefs Gordon Ramsay and Sir Terence Conran.

Mr Perks, from Norwich, said: “I'm really enjoying the course and I am learning a lot which I can use through work. I am learning a lot of techniques and new methods and a lot of new recipes I've never known about.

“I didn't know a lot about food before I started work at the Waffle House. I've learnt some new skills on the job but I've also learnt a lot more techniques and got a lot more knowledge from the apprenticeship course.

“Recently we have been learning about bread making, and that's been really good.

“I'm learning skills on the course and trying them out at work, and in the future I hope to move on somewhere else to further develop my skills, ideally in a big restaurant in London.

“I enjoyed cooking at home, and never really wanted to go to university because of the debt. I have heard university is great for the social life, but it seems more ideal to be working and learning at the same time and manage things in your own time.”

Head chef Chris Coooper, 22, who joined the Waffle House five years ago washing pots, has also gone through the City College Norwich apprenticeship.

He added: “You really gain knowledge of cooking. When I first started I didn't know anything about cooking and through the course and working I have progressed quite well and it has been really useful. I would definitely advise doing it. The qualification will help in later life. I have learnt a huge amount.”

Natasha Reed watches Rebecca Brown working at her Bridewell Alley salon.
Partner Ben Rogers, who himself completed an apprenticeship while working at the Waffle House, said the training also offered major benefits to employers.

He said: “Our staff gain key skills and improve their knowledge, and while there is no obligation for the chefs to carry on working here they tend to stay on for a year or a year and a half before moving on.”

Hairdresser Rebecca Brown was able to build up her clientele while training as an apprentice at a city salon - something she says she would not have been able to do on a purely college-based course.

Ms Brown, 23, who lives near Dereham Road, completed her level three qualification in hairdressing in 2007 while working at the Natasha Reed salon on Bridewell Alley in the city centre.

She did one day a week in college and the rest of the week working in the salon.

She said: “I would recommend apprenticeships. I did one day a week in college and the rest of the time I was in the salon. It's the best way, because it allows you to build up your clientele while you are training, which is easier than starting from scratch.

“I also got to see stylists working on hair every day, apart from the day in college.

“The college course allows you to learn all the theory and get everything signed off. I really enjoy working with different people and being creative, and love hairdressing.”

Apprentice brick layer, Matthew Smith.
Salon owner Natasha Reed, who set up the business three years ago, said gaining hands-on experience at a hairdressers was key to good training.

She added: “A salon environment is completely different from being in college, and if you come straight out of college dealing with customers can be a shock as you don't have as much experience with it.

“Also with apprentices you get a relationship going for the two years they are training and become almost like friends who can trust each other.

“From my perspective with apprentices at the end of the training I know what I'm getting and can offer them a job at the end of it.”

Apprentice brickie Matthew Smith has gained hands-on experience building homes for the city's future growth with construction firm Lovell.

Mr Smith, 19, from Sprowston, has been working on new homes on Millers Lane, Norwich, and also a Lovell site in Great Witchingham learning his trade over the past seven month.

He is carrying out the college-based part of his training at Stevensons College in Leicestershire.

He said: “I really enjoy it and have taken up the opportunity Lovell has given me.

“I knew I wanted to be a bricklayer and the apprenticeship was an ideal way for me to study. You learn more working on site and I've learnt so much in the seven months I have been here.

“You get to learn the trade and meet different people. Everyone has been really friendly and it is always a safe working environment, and I have been getting guidance on the job about where I am going right or wrong.”

Simon Medler, Norwich-based regional director at Lovell, said apprenticeships were important to help improve skills levels in the city.

He said: “For a good while now there has been a shortage of workers in the industry, and it is fundamental that we keep bringing youngsters through the training.

“We also believe as a company we have got a responsibility to train people both for our own benefit but also to leave something behind for the local area.”

Apprenticeships - the facts

Apprenticeships are work-based training courses aimed at young people aged 16 to 24 which aim to equip people with the skills needed in a variety of industries.

Apprentices must be in employment and are paid a salary while training part time at a college or other educational centre.

The courses typically last between two and three years

Benefits include:

Gaining a qualification while benefiting from hands-on experience

Payment throughout the course

The chance to move on to further training

Learning about employment rights and responsibilities

Holiday allowances

For more information visit

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