Karl Bottomley Apprentice at Brush in Loughborough rep...

Karl Bottomley Apprentice at Brush in Loughborough reports on the recent TUC Apprentices Conference

10 December 2012

Union Learn

Voice of the Apprentice

First of all we discussed apprentice pay. On this subject, the 4 apprentices and I highlighted that the Brush apprentices are paid well. However it was discussed that many employers are using apprentices as cheap labour and that this is not acceptable. It was then bought up how did we feel about the fact that anybody over 25 would have to take out a further education loan to pay for their qualifications. Most people disagreed with this and felt that it was an unjustified scheme.

The topic then moved on to see what we thought a quality apprenticeship involved. On this subject, after describing how the Brush apprenticeship scheme is run now, Brush was described as a gold star apprenticeship. From this we went on to discuss how smaller companies and other companies can deliver good quality apprenticeships. This was extremely interesting debate with many views put across. 2 key points I felt were put forward by the Brush apprentices which I felt are extremely important and are linked in. One would be to set up a mentoring system (this was referring to our site mainly). By doing this you would be identifying the best suited members of the skilled work force to mentor apprentices through there apprenticeship.  Moving forward with this it was then mentioned that a change in the review system would be good. It was suggested by the Brush apprentices that the review system (if mentors were in place) should run as follows. The apprentice (accompanied by a union rep if wanted), the mentor and the line manager all have individual meetings with the apprentice scheme manager. After this they all then have a meeting together to discuss any outcomes or problems that may have been discussed in the previous individual meetings. This was suggested because in some cases if a 16 to 18 year old apprentice is having problems with in the workplace, for example disputes with the line manager or mentor, it is extremely intimidating for someone of that age to bring up such sensitive information in front of the people themselves. 

The topic then moved on to how unions can support apprenticeships. It was suggested by a Brush representative that if a governing body such as the T.U.C was to put together a “Graduation” ceremony this could help. The reason it was felt that this could be such a vast help was that with university, every year people graduate and have ceremonies and a “ball” where loved ones and family members can come and celebrate their child’s/brothers/sisters etc success. If a governing body such as the T.U.C was to put together such an event (which wouldn’t be too hard to organise dates on as apprenticeships still run in line with the academic year). With some good media coverage and a successful event instantly you could have a quick, powerful statement that apprenticeships are a positive, viable and a credible option for the younger generations’ future. 

The topic was then bought up of an apprenticeship “app”, would this be a good idea? Everyone was in agreement that it would. A Brush representative then said that it would be even better if this could be linked in with the qualifications/college you are attending. That way you could keep track of all your modules, assignments and work load all from your mobile phone.

Finally a Y.A.S (young apprenticeship scheme) was suggested. This is where 14 – 16 year olds can do vocational training with in school or their own free time to help them gauge if they want a career in that subject and if so they could even get a head start in the qualifications needed to complete an advanced apprenticeship. 

The discussion then developed into how could we promote apprenticeships in schools and make them seen as equal to going onto university after compulsory education. Two vital points would were raised by the Brush apprenticeships. One was on career guidance in schooling, instead of using software to help find “matches” for what careers you could take on, case studies should be taken in to school demonstrating how successful people have been after taking the vocation and education training route after school. For instant Brushes Managing Director Wayne Pearson did an apprenticeship. Also career avenues available such a works convenor, apprentice management, and all other avenues that are available as a result of doing an apprenticeships should be highlighted to 14 – 16 year olds.

An interesting point was then made (based on the sample of people sitting in the room) that apprentices are starting at a higher age. After discussing the problems that may occur with 16 – 18 year olds finding apprenticeships a solution was suggested by one of the Brush apprentices. This suggestion was that you standardise the interview process (depending on the trade). That way schools can then help teach and practice the interview process with their students so that they can know what to expect when attending an interview.

Finally the topic was moved on to where next for apprenticeships.  On this topic the conversation moved to how to stop companies abusing apprenticeships. A good idea was then bought up that a ranking system similar to that of Universities could be applied. It was then said that this could back fire because it would mean all the big employers would dominate the ranking charts due to experience they would have over a growing company maybe taking on an apprentice for the 1st time. From this a valid point was once again made by one of the Brush delegates that instead of ranking the employers, rank the colleges that deliver work with the employers to deliver the apprenticeship scheme. 

A T.U.C representative was then asked if there were any projects unions were currently working on to help companies want to employ apprentices. They responded saying that a tax relief scheme for companies with apprentices is currently being discussed. It is a complex matter though as even though it may help employers take on apprentices, it could also make companies abuse apprenticeships and use apprentices as cheap labour and tax relief.

Upon reflection after the day 2 other points were thought of by the Brush apprentices. One was that this event was promoted as “I’m and apprentice, Value me”. As well as pushing this we should be pushing “I was an apprentice, Value me”. By doing this not only can you demonstrate all levels of management that did apprenticeships, thus making apprenticeships more appealing. Also you can highlight the massive skill gap between generations that needs bridging. I feel such an incentive could be the supports needed for said metaphorical bridge. 

The last point discussed amongst the Brush apprentices was that maybe a “shake up” of the N.V.Q system would be beneficial. This is due to the fact that now it is possible for school leavers to go to college and gain N.V.Q’s without actually doing an apprenticeship. It was felt that this discredits the N.V.Q’s gained by apprentices actually learning and developing the skills needed for a trade with in the work place. It is not suggested that N.V.Q’s are abolished, just that they are either separated from apprenticeships and apprenticeships gain another more credible qualifications. Or you increase the credibility of N.V.Q’s by making them a workplace gained qualification as opposed to a college course available to all.

Finally I would like to thank the T.U.C and my employers for giving myself and the other Brush representatives the opportunity to attend the union learn conference. It was an extremely productive and interesting day and from what I can gather that was the feeling throughout all the attendees.