The Age of Apprenticeships

At Bridgend College we are in no doubt that we are currently working in an ‘Age of Apprenticeships’

This may sound a little odd when we consider that people have been undertaking apprenticeships at Bridgend College for more than 90 years, but demand for apprenticeships starts is greater now than ever before.

Five years ago, we were training around 200 apprentices per year at Bridgend College in mainly traditional, craft based vocations. We now train in excess of 1,000 apprentices each year across a vast range of vocations ranging from Engineering and Construction, to Veterinary Nursing, Leadership, Horticulture, Agriculture and several others. Even during this period of growth, our quality remains exceptionally high, with consistently more than 90% of all Bridgend College apprentices going on to complete their full apprenticeships; almost 10% above the Welsh average.

We are proud to deliver apprenticeship training to over 250 key employers across the nation. Our unique collaborative approach to the delivery of apprenticeships with Tata Steel – the biggest private employer of apprenticeship places in Wales – goes from strength to strength. This partnership, which delivers over 400 apprenticeships per year at Tata, is a real exemplar of how industry and academia can collaborate to make a huge difference to the skill base of the regional economy. Other key employer partners of ours include anchor companies such as Sony, Renishaw and Celtic Manor and we are committed to ensuring that SMEs have as much access to apprenticeship starts as larger, levy paying employers.

“Bridgend College truly recognise and deliver programmes that meet employers needs. We’ve had a working relationship with Bridgend College for many years but since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy, we’ve worked increasingly with them as a College and together have delivered over 700 apprenticeships across 14 different programmes from Level 2 to Level 5 and are about to embark on Level 6 programmes in Engineering. These programmes are also generating positive returns on investment and this is only possible through the leadership of their management team and the dedication, experience and passion of their staff.” Huw Mathias, Training Delivery Manager, Tata Steel

Apprenticeships have never before been so accessible. In recent years at Bridgend College, we have seen an incredibly successful introduction of programmes such as Junior Apprenticeships (for those aged 14-16) and, in partnership with the local Health Board, Supported Internships (for those with a disability or Additional Learning Need). These innovative projects offer pathways into the world of apprenticeships for the youngest and most vulnerable in our communities.

From September 2019, we are partnering with Swansea University to offer one of the first ever Engineering Degree Apprenticeships in Wales. This potentially game-changing addition to the apprenticeships programme now offers a clear pathway for an apprentice to follow from level 2 right through to Degree Level. Not only will apprentices not incur any debt during this time, but they will be earning a wage throughout and becoming a vitally skilled employee for their industry and the local economy.

It should come as no surprise then, when we look at the range and access to apprenticeships available these days, that our young, potential future apprentices are awakening to the opportunities an apprenticeship pathway can offer as a viable alternative career option to studying at University.

It is hard therefore to see the demand for apprenticeships declining anytime soon. With a finite apprenticeship budget in Wales, Welsh Government – who are well on track to exceed their 100,000 apprenticeships start target during this assembly term – have a vital role to play in ensuring funding is targeted to the right places. We know that Regional Skills Partnerships will be a key influencer, channelling funding to sector priorities and higher level apprenticeships, but it is also encouraging to see Welsh Government prioritising school-leaver apprentices and those with a declared disability in their funding allocations.

So here at Bridgend College we say long may the Age of Apprenticeships continue; let’s create more opportunities, drive innovation, develop new partnerships and continue to collaborate with industry .. for apprenticeships have been the best kept secret for far too long!

Matt Williams, Executive Director for Work-based Learning at Bridgend College