Exciting times ahead in the apprenticeship arena

Gareth Drought, the new chair of the Technical Apprenticeship Consortium.

National Apprenticeship Week this week seems like an opportune time to speak with the recently appointed chair of the Technical Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC), writes James Ketchell.

TAC is the dedicated apprenticeship resource for the industry and has recently pivoted to offer apprenticeship advice to all ACE and EIC members. In his day job, Gareth Drought is the HR director at Tony Gee but he has been involved, “since not the absolute beginnings, but not far afterwards”, with TAC which develops apprenticeship standards, provides advice and support to employers and helps to promote the industry to apprentices.

I asked Drought why he accepted the role as chair following in the footsteps of previous chair and Tony Gee colleague, Chris Burton, “TAC is employer-led and its strength really permeates from the group of experts at ACE, but also from the drive and passion of others from employers, to create the right balance for apprentices,” he said. “I have seen the good work from previous chairs and wanted to continue that and add fresh impetus to TAC. To be in a position to shape that further is a privilege not lost on me,” says Drought.

Tony Gee has 31 apprentices, representing around 7% of the overall workforce. I ask Drought what they offer that other employees do not. He’s quick off the mark. “Put simply, apprenticeships provide us with a pipeline of talent into our industry that previously was untapped,” he says. “Our industry is changing so rapidly and we need to adapt to keep up but training from the bottom up allows us to garner the best of both worlds. Diversity of thought is crucial for any successful organisations and apprentices bring in fresh thinking in areas that will surprise you,” Drought said.

I ask him if he has a message for those who are still hesitant. “Get in touch with TAC!” Drought replies. “We’re very approachable and knowledgeable and can help any ACE or EIC member large or small. We know what it’s like and why people might be hesitant, but have that practical experience that comes from over a decade of working with apprentices on how you can start on the journey, or even helping employers on how to best use their Apprenticeship Levy,” says Drought.

The pandemic has affected all workplaces, but for apprentices that tend to thrive in working environments where they can absorb knowledge like a sponge, remote working has been a challenge. Drought said: “It’s true that apprenticeships work best when there are other people to interact with. With a mentor and support not distanced by technology. We are looking forward to a degree of normality towards the latter end of 2021, but until then our apprentices [at Tony Gee] will receive the best guidance and attention possible that we can offer, just not face-to-face in an office.”

The financial implications of the pandemic have also impacted on employment across the industry but Drought is clear that apprentices have to be part of the long-term solution. “Our skills gap across the industry is acute. We should not make short-term decisions that will unduly impact on the ability for our industry to deliver against the needs of society in the long run”. He pauses for thought, “We run the risk of overstretching and now, more than ever, we need to ensure that those gaps do not widen,” he says.

TAC recently broadened its offering and now offers support to all ACE and EIC members. I asked him what changes we can expect. “My vision is to provide a decade’s worth of activity to the wider market,” he said. “I am determined that the good work of TAC in terms of creating standards and ensuring quality provision is understood by as many as possible.

“A year of change is ahead and it is coming at the right time. TAC has a fantastic foundation to build from and encourage apprenticeships across our industry. I want to see more businesses across the membership embracing apprenticeships and we will be reaching out to all to get a clearer picture of the landscape very soon. It’s a great period of change and exciting times lie ahead,” Drought said.

James Ketchell is head of communications at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.