Norfolk MPs praise apprenticeship scheme

Matthew Hancock, government skills minister on his visit to Saffron Housing Trust, Long Stratton to see to learn more...

Matthew Hancock, government skills minister on his visit to Saffron Housing Trust, Long Stratton to see to learn more about their apprentices scheme.

A new apprenticeship scheme launched by a housing trust received the backing of two Norfolk MPs during a visit to the trust's headquarters yesterday.

Saffron Housing's initiative to recruit 20 apprentices who are then contracted out to local businesses in south Norfolk received the backing of West Suffolk MP Matthew Hancock and Richard Bacon, MP for south Norfolk during a visit to the Long Stratton office to meet some of the apprectices working with the trust.

Mr Hancock said: 'Saffron Housing has started a scheme that has got great potential. They employ their own apprentices, but also help other small businesses and charities to get apprentices themselves by busting the bureaucracy so there is a lot to learn from what Saffron Housing are doing for what can be replicated across the country.'

He added the government was expanding its apprentices programme through extra funding and increasing the number of apprenticeships gave students more options so if they did not want to pursue a path into higher education after finishing their GCSEs, they could take an apprenticeship instead.

'There are skills shortages in Britain at the same time as high youth unemployment and that shows that we have not been focusing on the right skills and by supporting apprenticeships and the skills employers need, rather than the skills the government chooses we are working to fill the skills gap,' he said.

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Mr Bacon said: 'It is a terrific scheme. There are a lot of small businesses in this area who are very concerned about the administrative hassle of taking on an apprenticeship, but what Saffron is doing is removing that hassle and that fear and making it a lot easier for small local employers to take on an apprentice.'

He believed over the last 40 or 50 years there had been an increasing emphasis on academic qualifications and sending students to university at the expense of more vocational skills taught through apprenticeship schemes.

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David Whitelock, assistant head at Diss High School, also spoke about his school's involvement with the apprenticeship scheme by helping students who did not want to go on to A-level to take the alternative apprenticeship route.

He explained how students were provided with a booklet to focus their attention on what an employer might need and what they would need to do to be good employees.

The booklet is completed by the apprentices themselves and includes a series of criteria that have to be met, including acting responsibly, being co-operative, showing determination, taking initiative and looking after their health and fitness.

'We got invovled in the apprenticeship scheme because it seemed to fill a gap for what students want to do. It filled in lots of gaps for what we thought was needed,' Mr Whitelock said.

The trust provides full HR support and training throughout the length of the apprenticeship.

Local businesses have an apprentice working with them four days a week with the remaining day spent off-site studying.

Saffron aims to reduce the risks for local employers by taking away the administrative burden when employing apprentices. The programme is a partnership between Saffron Housing Trust, Broadland Council Training Services (BCTS), Diss High School and author and social entrepreneur Robert Ashton.

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