As the Belfast Telegraph today launches its initiative to create more apprenticeships for the workforce in Northern Ireland Kerry McKittrick and Jamie McDowell talk to some who have taken this career route.
As the recession continues to bite this newspaper is determined to help young people find a remunerative career. While there is an increasing emphasis on going on to third level education, apprenticeships offer an alternative route into employment.
At present less than 8% of young people here follow that route.
Our aim is to encourage more companies to offer apprenticeshps and to point up the prospects to young people.
There are more than 11,000 apprentices cur
rently in training in Northern Ireland learning the valuable skills — from IT to hairdressing and refrigeration — that will equip them for a meaningful working life.
With the support of the Department for Employment and Learning, and some of the province’s best know employers, we launch our initiatve today.
We speak to some young people who are currently undertaking apprenticeships and to those who are helping them learn the ropes of their chosen careers.
Michael McCormick (19) is an apprentice joiner with Richmond, a specialist outfitting company. He lives in Belfast and is currently in his third year. He says:
I've always been interested in doing an apprenticeship because I've always wanted to work with my hands. Even when I was still at school I did all of my work experience at building sites.
I chose joinery because I thought it had the best opportunities for advancement. I go to tech one day a week to learn about technical drawings but the rest of the time I'm working with the company. Once I finish my apprenticeship I'd really like to stay and progress with the company.”
Colin Angus (44) is facilities manager at Richmond. He says:
I really enjoyed doing my apprenticeship. It has given me a trade but it also gave me the opportunity to work my way up through the company as I have done.
Now I'm one of the people responsible for choosing the new apprentices as they come in. They're not obligated to keep going with an apprenticeship if they don't enjoy it.
We get around four a year — sometimes all of them will stay, sometimes they don't. It depends on the person. About half of our workforce started with us as apprentices. There are different specialisations within joinery and we can train people in each of them.
I believe that a joinery apprenticeship actually opens the door for all sorts of trades. When outfitting a premises the joiner is the one who is on site the whole way through and sees everything that's going on. It's very helpful when people are considering moving on to supervisory roles.”
Conor Crossey (21) lives in |Lisburn and is an apprentice toolmaker at Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast. He says:
I left school at 16 and went to tech to study construction. I only stayed there for a year and a half and didn't finish the course.
I've always preferred to work with my hands and my dad's a mechanic so I've been helping him out for years.
It was my girlfriend's mum who suggested that I do an apprenticeship.
It was a way that I could work, learn and earn all at the same time.
And I was working with my hands.
I applied for an apprenticeship at Bombardier and I'm due to finish the three-year programme in September.
I'm guaranteed a job at the end of my time and I've made it to the final five of the Apprentice of the Year Northern Ireland awards.”
Carol Phillips is vice president of human resources, Bombardier Aerospace. She says:
Our apprentice scheme is the largest in Ireland and it’s been going for the last 50 years, which really says a lot about how valuable our apprentices our to the company.
We have a dedicated programme for apprentices here called Interpoint, and the vast majority of the apprentices who finish their three years go on to progress through the company.
Apprentices are so important to us us for the simple fact that it's very hard to find skilled workers to fill the roles that we need.
Many senior people at Bombardier have started their careers here as apprentices.
In the last few years we've seen many young people having finished their A levels looking at an apprenticeship as an option as opposed to university. We've even noticed people aged 40-50 beginning apprenticeships.
Some who may have lost their job because of the recession, others who just fancy a change of direction.”
Karlene McBride (24) is a machinist at John Huddleston Engineering in Greyabbey and lives in Dundonald. She says:
I started here when I was 18 and did my apprenticeship over four years.
I left school at 16 after my GCSEs but I didn't really know what to do with myself after that.
My dad and sister both worked at Shorts so I knew it would be good to get a trade.
While I was doing my apprenticeship I would be on one or two days of release to go to college and learn about the technical side of things. You're not necessarily guaranteed a job when you finish your apprenticeship here. I did get one but even if I hadn't at least I would have had a trade to fall back on when I finished.”
Kelvin McGreeghan (40) is the apprentice trainer and lathe turner at the firm. He says:
I started my apprenticeship in 1988 when I was 16. It was kind of the only option back then.
I think it was a good career choice though.
I did my four-year apprenticeship — the apprenticeship programme is still four years today here.
It's been very good because it has set me on a career track and I still have options to study and progress through the company.
Good apprentices really add value to a company.
We take on four or five a year and it leaves us with a workforce we have trained ourselves to our own high standard.”
Stephanie Kydd (24) is a trainee solicitor with Peter Bowles & Co and lives in Saintfield. She says:
I decided to be a solicitor around the time I was deciding what universities to apply for.
I found out that you needed three As in order to get into law at Queen's and because that was what I was able to attain I decided to apply. I thought that law would be a profession that was both challenging and rewarding.
Once I graduated I applied for a place at the Law Institute and started to look for a master. You have to find your own master by a particular deadline — if you don't find one then you will lose your place at the Institute.
I know people that has happened to. I also know people who found a master but didn't get a place at the Institute so anything can happen.
The apprenticeship has been invaluable in teaching me how to practice law.
The training we get at the institute is very important but this practical experience is key.”
Peter Bowles (31) is a solicitor from Dromara and owns the Saintfield legal firm. He says:
A law degree gives you all of the theory but the apprenticeship is where a trainee solicitor will get their practical experience. They learn how to deal with the paper work and how to handle clients and sit in with consultations that I do.
At the moment I have two apprentices. I could have hired a full-time solicitor instead but I decided that this would be a good way to identify someone that it would be good to work with in the future. It's my commitment to the profession and its development in the future. After all, I supervise and am responsible for all of the work my apprentices do.
An apprenticeship is an excellent way to develop a professional role within the law. I would like to think though that when the two I have finish at the Law Institute in September I will have the work here to keep them on.”
Daniel McClelland (17) is an apprentice butcher and lives in Bangor. He says:
While I was still at school I started a Saturday job at the shop.
There was a course at school that was set up to help people get jobs and through that I was also able to get released from school to work a couple of days a week.
From there I was offered an apprenticeship for four years and I decided to take it.
I think an apprenticeship is a good way to get a start in life and earn a living.
I always wanted to take a manual job but I would take cutting meat over manufacturing any day – it can take a bit of getting used to though.
I work both in the shop and in the plant but I'd like to stay in the plant when I finish and working on boning and trimming.
I really don't know a lot about the cooking side of things but I know a lot more now I work here.
The funny thing is I didn't eat much meat before I came here — to be honest, I didn't really like it much. Now that I've been here a while though I find that I really like a nice fillet steak.”
William Corrie Jnr (26) is the operations manager of Corries Meats in Newtownards. He says:
I started my apprenticeship here when I was 16. It's a family business so I was going into it and I didn't necessarily have to do the apprenticeship but I felt that it was very important that I knew what I was doing.
An apprenticeship enabled me to start from the bottom and work my way up.
Funnily enough I actually wanted to be a joiner but I had an expensive lifestyle and the career progression was better through butchery — there's a clear career path.
The firm has two apprentices at the moment. They're important because we can turn them into the ideal employee who knows exactly how everything here is done — someone who has trained elsewhere won't quite have that.
Apprentices can also be put on certain career paths, be it as managers and so on.
It's actually getting harder to get apprentices these days because butchery isn't a very attractive job.
Once you get through the door you know in the first few months if it's the job for you.
We've actually considered making a cooking class part of the apprenticeship. If you're working in the shop then knowing how to cook different cuts of meat is a massive part of the job.
Our butchers just gain the knowledge as they go on.”
Help make a real difference
- If you are a business owner or chief executive interested in bolstering our young people's life choices by creating a new apprenticeship, please email BTapprentices@gmail.com and we will let readers know of your interest
- For young people to find out about the government funded ApprenticeshipsNI programme go to: www.nidirect.gov.uk/apprenticeshipsni or tel: 0800 0854 573