I’m a strong supporter of apprenticeships as a means of developing vocational skills and as a stepping stone towards a career. I’m a passionate advocate, not least as I was an apprentice myself!  I was one of 90 young people (with somewhat longer hair!) who started our apprenticeships with Michelin in 1979, donning our green overalls.  Over 4 years we developed vocational skills and important life skills alongside technical study much of which stays with me today.  We worked across the company broadening our experience, did PT (yes free gym) every morning and even spent a week in Snowdonia and worked in a high dependency hospital to build our wider experience.  My career has developed into new areas and sectors and while I’ve gone on to do higher education, those formative years were so valuable to my later career .in developing ambition, good work-based behaviours, communication skills and confidence.

Much later through Aspire Housing, I had the opportunity to reconnect with the apprenticeship agenda with PM Training the Group’s award-winning training provider.  While a lot has changed the fundamentals are the same – a job with training, with the learner (since my day apprentices can be adults and young people) undertaking a planned programme of practical and academic studies to develop competence in a profession.  Further, with recent apprenticeship reforms, people can now take apprenticeships all the way to post graduate levels, in an ever-widening range of occupations.  It is a really rewarding experience seeing people developing their skills, confidence and personal skills which are so much part of the apprenticeship programme.  The opportunities for apprenticeships have never been greater.

It was in this context, that I was delighted to contribute to the initial programme to establish new apprenticeship standards in Housing through leading the trailblazer group.  My own journey into the housing sector (as many I speak to) was partially chance, part opportunity, working in local government, I was asked to step in and support the recently established Housing Market Renewal programme.  Like many, I was probably under prepared and didn’t really appreciate the full extent of what the sector offers and how fundamental we are to addressing wider social, economic and environmental inequalities.  We provide such an essential range of services to communities with highly skilled and committed staff, but how frequently do we find ourselves having to explain to people outside the sector what we do? And how few young people made informed positive choices of housing as a career?  As a trailblazer group, we had the ambition to raise the profile of the sector to support the development of pathways into the sector (including our tenants), raise its profile as a career of choice and help address the future needs of the sector through a suite of apprenticeships that would support the sector’s needs.

We were fortunate to have the positive support of the CIH in this respect as the guardian of professional development in the sector as well as the Nat Fed, further we reached out and worked closely with the private sector to develop standards which could be used across sectors.  We had the active support of a range of housing organisations large and small so the standards are truly employer led.  This resulted in the establishment of new housing apprenticeships at levels 2, 3 and 4, all these standards attract appropriate recognition by the CIH of professional competence and we have been really pleased to see a new generation of people being trained in housing occupations –

Our aim now is to continue this development to establish a level 6 degree apprenticeship which will complete the ladder to chartered level recognition within the profession.  Working with housing provider partners, the CIH and relevant universities this will create a new pathway to full professional recognition.  We welcome new organisation to join this programme.  With many housing providers paying the apprenticeship levy, a need to further develop new talent in our sector and address the many challenges we have to tackle the housing crisis, there has never been a better time to develop and embrace our own apprenticeships.