Apprentices in Barking and Dagenham enjoy learning on the job
- Credit: Archant
More than half a million learners have started training on the job in the last academic year alone.
National Apprenticeship Week begins on Monday, with hundreds of events and activities lined up. Co-ordinated by the Nation Apprenticeship service, it aims to highlight the benefits of apprenticeships to individuals and businesses. We sent our business and careers correspondent to speak to some local apprentices, to find out what it’s all about.
A pair of trainee bricklayers from Dagenham are already helping to shape the borough’s landscape as part of their apprenticeship scheme.
Connor Bugg, 19, of Bradwell Avenue and Kane Holland, 17, of Lockwell Road, are working on a new development of 26 retirement bungalows off Wood Lane, being built by construction company Lakehouse.
Arriving from different backgrounds the pair landed their enviable placement after coming top of their class in their first year of study at Barking and Dagenham College. They now do day release and are learning on site.
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Kane worked briefly in retail after leaving school but admits it’s no contest what he prefers doing.
He said: “It’s pretty amazing when you see something transform from a drawing on a piece of paper to a fully-functioning building and knowing you played a part in it.
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“It will be great driving past in future years and telling my family: ‘I built that.’”
Connor worked as a labourer for a year-and-a-half before starting his apprenticeship and hopes to manage his own site one day.
Iain Gambardella, economic development manager for Lakehouse, said: “The apprentices are incredibly valuable, because it ensures we always have properly trained workers who can work to a high standard.”
A mile down the road and another college apprentice is busy insulating the new library as part of the development of a local primary school.
Trainee carpenter Thomas Cash, 18, of Goresbrook Road, makes up part of the Neilcott team at Richard Alibon School, Alibon Road.
“I like the working environment and although you’re always learning, you’re not just getting told what to do,” he said.
“There’s always plenty of good banter on site too.”
Project manager Martin Thornton said: “The role of apprenticeships in construction is hugely important and something the industry should have been doing for years. Companies weren’t getting the quality and customers were accepting lower standards, with building going downhill.”
Elsewhere, a group of five trainee car body shop mechanics could become among the most highly-skilled in the country thanks to a pioneering new apprenticeship scheme.
Fix Auto Dagenham, on Rainham Road South, became the first shop in the UK to sign-up for AutoRaise last year, a collision repair apprenticeship programme launched by Barking and Dagenham College.
Trainees on the two-year course gain three Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) qualifications in mechanical, electrical and trim, panel and paint.
Victor Silva, 21, of Woodford Road, Dagenham, has been interested in cars from a young age and has worked at the company for four years.
Now studying one day a week at college he is amazed by how far his skills have already developed in such a short space of time.
“When the apprenticeship started there was so much to take in and I thought I’d struggle, but everyone’s been so encouraging,” he said. “The mix of classroom studying and on-site working allows much more depth of knowledge.”
Although occasionally dealing with general car service, the majority of the work involves damage repair. While the scheme is obviously beneficial to the apprentices themselves, commercial director Paul Cunningham admits will also prove a major asset for the company.
“Apprentices provide an unbelievable benefit,” he said. “Within two years they’ll be more qualified than people who have been working here all their lives.”
Paul could follow in the footsteps of rags-to-riches Prezemek Lukaszek, 32, from Poland, who worked himself up the ranks.
He arrived at the shop eight years ago asking for a job, barely able to speak English, and was taken on after an impressive trial. After working his way up from sweeping the floors he is now the company’s body shop manager.
Meanwhile a budding actor hoping to one day take on Hollywood is cooking up a storm in a Barking café.
Christopher Wheeler, 21, from Bethnal Green, works four days a week at Relish@BLC, in the Town Square, as part of a hospitality apprenticeship.
And the Barking and Dagenham College student, who also studies English, is relishing life in the kitchen. He said: “It’s great to meet different people, take on responsibilities and learn new skills, from customer service to learning to cook.
“It’s a good environment to work in and I like talking with the customers. It improves my confidence and I love being a team player. It will help me to use my own initiative in the future.”
Although working in the food industry is often seen as a glamorous profession, Christopher admits it isn’t all Masterchef, with plenty of clearing up, preparation and pot washing to be done as well.
While the range of tasks gives him practise with time management, a skill increasingly valued by employers, Christopher reveals the cooking has to accept second place to the other love in his life.
“My first passion is to become an actor and doing performance art so hospitality is just my back-up plan really, although I do still really enjoy it,” he explained.
“I’d love to be starring in films in 10 year’s time, but if that doesn’t quite come off I could see myself managing a food outlet – ideally a five-star restaurant.”
For more information about apprenticeship or National Apprenticeship Week visit apprenticeships.org.uk.