‘Apprenticeships today are about much more than learning a trade, they’re a stepping stone to wherever you want to go.’
South West College’s (SWC) Centre for Excellence Manager for Work Based Learning, Christopher Robinson, has seen a lot of change in apprenticeships since he first left school to complete his own almost twenty years ago. Since then, apprenticeships have evolved, with more industries availing of their methods, more students choosing them, and public perceptions changing. The result of all these changes mean that Christopher sees apprenticeships as a better educational opportunity than ever before.
Christopher from Clogher Valley said, ‘when I first left school and chose not to go to university it raised a few eyebrows. I joined an apprenticeship course at Fermanagh College and people questioned if it was the right choice. Nowadays, while university may be the right pathway for some people, that perception of apprenticeships has changed. Employers recognise that apprentices are the exact type of highly trained, highly motivated employees they need and want. Twenty years ago my careers advisor couldn’t believe I was choosing an apprenticeship over university, but that reaction simply doesn’t exist anymore, because of the high quality employment and progression opportunities on offer.’
Christopher completed a four-year apprenticeship after leaving school and progressed to Higher Education, industry employment and self-employment. He says high levels of training and accreditation, combined with new industries recognising the benefits of employing people early, are behind the continued rise in popularity of apprenticeships.
Christopher says, ‘apprenticeships have evolved so much in recent times. They have maintained the level of professional training which they’ve always had, but now they’re more academically recognised as a global currency, which allow apprentices to work anywhere in the world. Traditionally when you thought about apprenticeships you thought about construction sites and motor vehicle garages. Industries have realised the benefits of having an employee early and having input into the training of that individual, so that the employee can benefit the industry and vice-versa.’
The ethos of earning while you learn, which is central to apprenticeships, has been ever present in Christopher’s educational and career journey. After his initial four-year apprenticeship, he continued his education with an HNC, an honours degree and a master's degree, all while continuing to be employed and without incurring any student debt.
He says, ‘everything I have to say about apprenticeships is led by the fact that I’m a product of one. They’re something I’m passionate about because I’ve lived the experience, I understand what an apprenticeship is and the benefits of them because I’ve seen it first-hand.’
Now, in his role as Centre for Excellence Manager for Work Based Learning, Christopher is seeing apprenticeships benefit more people than ever, as new courses continue to emerge, offering an ever-increasing range of options. He says, ‘new apprenticeships are led by demand from local industry and demand from potential applicants, so the courses we offer are always suitable pathways to employment. At South West College, we are very much the third party, focused on facilitating students and industry by providing students with the technical training they require, and as a result providing industry with the skillset they need.’
‘Anyone considering an apprenticeship need only think about what it is they enjoy, how they enjoy learning and where they want to go, because whatever it is, work-based learning can take you there. Apprenticeships today are about much more than learning a trade, they’re a stepping stone to wherever you want to go, be it higher education, career progression, working globally, or owning your own business.’
For further information about apprenticeships at South West College, or to apply for a course, visit www.swc.ac.uk. Follow us on Facebook search South West College.