Norfolk businesses say apprenticeships are key to growth

Businesses hailed apprenticeships as 'the way forward' when it comes to growing and developing small and medium sized businesses.

The comments came as they helped launch the new �3.5m Apprenticeships Norfolk campaign from the county council, which aims to give the area's young people bright futures in industry.

Today's event at The Forum in Norwich coincided with an open day where youngsters could meet employers and find out more about the opportunities available. A total of 500 people registered an interest in an apprenticeship.

Speaking at the launch, Richard Bridgman, chairman of Thetford-based Warren Services, said: 'We really need more SMEs [small and medium enterprises] in Norfolk taking on apprentices.

'I'm so passionate about it. It's the way forward. We have got a severe shortage of skills in Norfolk. It's not going to be a problem finding the apprentices – it's finding the companies willing to take them on.'

Apprenticeships Norfolk will see the county council offering �3.5m of funding to SMEs in growing sectors who have not previously taken on apprentices to help subsidise wages by between �2,500 and �10,000 a year. It has also launched a website to help businesses sign up with minimum hassle – with support from lead contract provider the College of West Anglia, City College Norwich and Broadland Council training Services – and to give young people the information they need to apply.

Mark Gaskins, business development director at Lawtronic in King's Lynn, said 60pc of the company's 80 employees had come through as apprentices.

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He said they had been key to the business's growth. 'Our turnover has grown by 30pc-plus this year and we have recruited at least half a dozen people just this year,' he said. 'I have always view apprentices as the strategic element to grow the business.'

Antony Howell is director of Hethell-based Active Technologies and chairman of the Apprenticeships Norfolk strategy board. His company currently has five apprentices out of a total workforce of 35 people.

He said: 'Apprentices bring a different approach to the business. They open up different ideas, even challenging you sometimes. It's helps our business perform better.

'We are looking for the next business leaders.'

Ann Steward, county council cabinet member for economic development, said she hoped the authority's campaign would help to overcome some of the obstacles which have stood in the way of SMEs in the past.

'It's quite a complicated procedure for some companies, especially when you're small, to take on apprentices,' she said. 'This is about how we can make is easier for them.'

To find out more information about Apprenticeships Norfolk go to or call 0344 800 8024.

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