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'Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to develop staff'

02 March 2020

Frances Ratcliffe is the Lead Consultant on Bridges and Structures at Fife Council and also acts as a mentor for the council's apprentices. Here she explains what the council looks for in a successful apprenticeship.

'Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to develop staff'
Frances Ratcliffe of Fife Council with Graduate Apprentice Jenna Brown

Fife Council has many types of apprenticeships from administration to plumbing, and has recently introduced the Graduate Apprenticeship.

Frances Ratcliffe, Lead Consultant on Bridges and Structures at Fife Council says apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity to develop staff with the skills an organisation needs.

What types of apprenticeships does Fife Council have?

Frances: "There are many Modern Apprenticeships throughout the council covering everything from admin to plumbing. The Graduate Apprenticeship we launched recently was the first of its kind."

What do apprentices bring to your organisation?

Frances: "Apprentices give us the opportunity to fill posts that may otherwise be difficult to recruit due to skills shortages. This was certainly a driver for creating the Civil Engineering Graduate Apprenticeships.

While they are undertaking their studies, they are providing a valuable service for us and, by the time they complete their studies, they not only have the academic qualifications we need but have experience in practice too. We are effectively 'growing our own' staff."

"It also potentially gives us the opportunity to provide routes into further and higher education for people whose personal circumstances may not have allowed them to enter full time education. So even those apprentices who we may not be able to employ at the end of their apprenticeship still gain from their time with us."

"With an ageing workforce, we consider employing apprentices as crucial for workforce planning. They benefit from our experience but we also find younger people often have skills they can teach the older employees, particularly in relation to technology and social media. "

"We have also taken advantage of the GA schemes to allow experienced employees to upgrade their academic qualifications. "

What support do your apprentices receive from colleagues?

Frances: "I can only speak for the apprentices that I mentor but their colleagues are very supportive. As well as being able to learn from experienced colleagues, they have been able to get some guidance when struggling with academic tasks. Our staff are always keen to make sure apprentices get the opportunity to get experience of anything interesting going on, even if it isn’t part of their work at the time."

Do you plan to recruit more apprentices in the future?

Frances: "The council certainly has an ongoing programme for apprentices. In regards to the specific Graduate Apprenticeships in my service, this has to be reviewed on an annual basis, depending on scope for filling vacancies. At the moment it is more likely internal staff will be selected to take part in the programme as there are few vacancies to be filled. As more staff retire and others move up, this may change again in future years and we can recruit again."

What advice would you give to another employer who might be considering recruiting apprentices?

Frances: "If you have vacancies and can support their learning, it is a fantastic opportunity to develop staff armed with the skills you need. But in order for both the apprentice and the employer to get the most out of it, you must both be fully committed."

What do you think makes a good apprentice?

Frances: "A genuine desire to work in the job they are training for, the dedication and self-management skills to work hard on the academic studies, and the confidence to pro-actively pursue opportunities to maximise workplace learning. They also need a realistic idea of the amount of work involved. This is particularly the case for Graduate Apprenticeships as they are doing a full time degree while working full time so it isn’t an easy option."

Why does Fife Council employ apprentices?

Frances: "For many reasons. As described earlier, it is important for workforce planning. It is also important to provide people from local communities with opportunities to develop skills and experience that will improve their job prospects but also so that they can provide service the community and local industry needs."

Give three words to describe what apprentices have brought to your organisation?

Frances: "Skills, enthusiasm, sustainability."

  • Andrew Panos, digital content editor at ICE