A robust talent pipeline is fundamental to business growth. And helping firms achieve such is apprenticeship provider Northern Skills. Here, ahead of September’s new academic year, Steven Hugill speaks to Nicole James, the organisation’s apprenticeship recruitment manager, business administrator William Paterson and recruitment consultants Thomas Peacock and Kaitlyn Potton, to find out more about the power of vocational learning for employers and learners, and how the latter trio are using their experiences to inform students’ journeys.
To stroll along Bridge Street East’s wide avenue is to take a journey through the broad expanse of Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage.
At one end, where rattling rail lines cross the Victorian-era Albert Bridge, poet Ian Horn lionises the ‘alchemy’ of iron ore pioneers Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan, his wall art an unashamed love letter to the town’s manufacturing muscle that ‘built the world’.
At the other end, Middlesbrough College Group’s campus catapults the narrative into the present day.
Where Bolckow and Vaughan began, the education provider is maintaining the industrial thrust, cohorts of talent streaming through the employment gateways of its former docklands home to lead next generation change.
Central to the flow is Northern Skills, the group’s dedicated apprenticeship and training arm, whose specialist recruitment team channels learners’ ambitions to the skills needs of more than 2000 firms.
Working with employers from Berwick to York, it catalyses students’ journeys through myriad courses and qualification planes across sectors from accountancy, construction and dentistry to further industries such as IT and digital, engineering and manufacturing.
And it works.
Latest figures show a shade more than 97 per cent of nearly 450 apprentices moved on to further studies, higher education or employment following the conclusion of their respective programmes in 2022.
“We provide end-to-end support, helping businesses find apprentices and students find the right employer for their futures,” says Nicole James, Northern Skills’ apprenticeship recruitment manager.
“For any business, taking on an apprentice – whether it be one or a cohort of 50 – is a great way to shape their workforce, and we tailor our support to their differing needs to ensure they are able to do so.
“Some still see the process as a little daunting, but we remove any uncertainties by matching their needs with the right learners, using our close relationships with tutors to identify which candidates best fit an employer’s brief.
“We also facilitate eligibility checks, to ensure learners meet course entry requirements, send over CVs for shortlisting and help arrange interviews.
“And this is mirrored in our student support,” says Nicole, who splits her time between Northern Skills’ Middlesbrough base and a sister hub in Newcastle’s Stamp Exchange.
She adds: “We carry out initial guidance sessions with every candidate, making sure they understand how an apprenticeship works and that they are aware of the differences between the various levels of learning.
“We also explore the many differing elements of a sector to find the area that best suits their ambitions.
“And then, once an apprenticeship offer is made, we ensure candidates have everything they need to start a vacancy.
“Similarly, if a candidate isn’t quite ready for an apprenticeship, we deliver upskilling, through things like interview and CV workshops, to prepare them for future opportunities.”
Such close support is intrinsic to the recruitment team’s offer, with staff, including apprenticeship business administrator William Paterson and recruitment consultants Thomas Peacock and Kaitlyn Potton – who all previously completed level three business administration apprenticeships with Northern Skills – softening physical frameworks with layers of emotion and experience.
Both Thomas and Kaitlyn are previous recipients of Northern Skills rising star awards, and having walked the same path as present-day students, are more than able to guide their journeys.
“I was once that 16 or 17-year-old trying to work out what they wanted to do, so it’s nice to be able to use my story to help students,” says Thomas, who undertook two apprenticeships with Northern Skills before being offered a full-time role.
He says: “An apprenticeship can feel a little daunting at first, especially for those leaving school, but the team and I use our experiences to show that while it might seem difficult, it is ultimately very rewarding.
“For me to be able to say, ‘I’ve been through it, and this is how you can progress’, is really valuable and it makes a big difference when talking to students.”
Nicole adds: “Starting learners on their career paths is by far the favourite part of our job, because you can see the impact it has.
“We placed a candidate six years ago, for example, who is now a manager hiring their own people.
“Similarly, when Thomas was promoted to his full-time role, he recruited for his business administration apprentice replacement, and Kaitlyn is now doing the same.
“Things go full circle, and its lovely to see.
“And that is why I’d encourage any business or learner thinking about an apprenticeship for the next academic year to contact the team.
“It isn’t too late, and the difference an apprenticeship can make to the future of a firm and a student is huge.”