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Friday, 22 August 2014

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Events held in Cumbria to mark National Apprenticeship Week

Three young people tearing around a virtual racetrack seated in customised gaming chairs may not look like the future of engineering, but these trainees are hoping their talents in design and creation will inspire the next generation of workers in the field.

Steven Nicholson, 21, of Penrith, together with 16-year-olds Jack Watters, of Ireby, and Chris Boustead, of Belle Vue in Carlisle, are hoping to harness the interest young people have in computer games to show off the specialist and lifelong skills which can be developed and used in the workplace.

They designed and made two gaming chairs, working on everything from the mechanics operating the steering wheel and foot pedals to the specialist frame the seats sit on.

Steven and Chris, who work at Pirelli in Carlisle, are both first-year electrical engineering apprentices, while Jack is training in mechanical engineering during a four-year apprenticeship at Innovia Films in Wigton.

The gaming station is their entry in a competition being run by Gen2, where they go for training at Kingmoor Park in Carlisle.

The training company set a challenge to its mechanical and engineering apprentices across Cumbria as part of efforts marking National Apprenticeship Week, which ended yesterday.

Teams have had to create their own interactive engineering kits to inspire eight to 18-year-olds to get into engineering and technology.

Heats were held at Gen2’s centres in Carlisle, Lillyhall outside Workington and in Barrow. Winners were announced at Energus at Lillyhall, yesterday.

Steven, who is a first-year electrical engineering apprentice with Cumbria County Council, said: “We decided to come up with the driving simulator for them to do. Everyone enjoys playing computer games but here we can show them what has been done to put the set up together.

“Then they need to use their maths skills too, by working out average speeds and how they can make their laps faster.”

The three trainees are among the latest batch of 250 engineering apprentices that Gen2 has on its books at its Carlisle centre this year. Beeby Bell, operations and innovations manager at Gen2, said: “A big draw for many learners who want to do apprenticeships now is the fact they can achieve higher end qualifications that are on a par with university degrees. There is also a high number of trainees that start out with us on a level two and work their way up. That can be so much more attractive to employers because they have been working in industry from day one of their apprenticeship when compared to graduates.”

He added: “We have around 1,000 apprentices working with firms across Cumbria every year. Industrial engineering is an area that has grown so much in the seven years we’ve been in Carlisle. We started out with about 20 apprentices and now there’s 250.

“Also we’re getting around 15 new businesses a year offering apprenticeships, firms that have never done it before but they are really seeing the benefits they can bring.”

Business administration apprentices Nicola McKenzie, Katherine Wilkinson and Dan McAulay organised Gen2’s open day at Kingmoor Park, Carlisle, on Wednesday.

They were in charge of handling a budget they could use to stage the event as well as promoting the event to attract apprentices, business leaders and employers.

Phil Bell, who covers Cumbria for the National Apprenticeship Service, said: “This is a national week where we can all celebrate the achievement, commitment and contributions of apprentices, businesses and training providers. It also helps raise awareness about apprentices and we can highlight simply how apprenticeships help change lives and boost business.

“We’re blessed here in Cumbria to have so many opportunities offered by employers. You don’t have to move away or go to university to achieve your dreams here in Cumbria.”

Engineering remains a strong area for apprenticeships but other industries that offer the chance to ‘earn while you learn’ include media, retail, law, IT, catering and nuclear decommissioning. And, they are proving more popular than every before.

Over half a million people started one last year – almost twice as many as in 2009-2010; and more than three times as many as 2002-2003.

Cumbria County Council’s apprenticeship programme goes from strength to strength. It offers apprenticeships in a range of vocations including business and administration, IT, health and social care, fire and rescue, civil engineering and vehicle maintenance.

Out of 176 apprentices recruited over the last three years, 62 have moved into permanent posts with the council with othe rs getting jobs elsewhere or continuing with their education.

The county council has also helped firms create a further 85 apprenticeships across Eden and South Lakeland by offering grants of up to £2,500 to those helping young people who are not in employment or training.

Luke Charlton, a trainee in highways and transport based at Egremont in west Cumbria, said: “I’ve been working in the Copeland area doing a bit of everything, from road excavating and filling potholes to bridge repairs and stone masonry work. I’ve recently been appointed as an assistant highways network technician, based at Lillyhall depot. I’ll be going out on sites, looking at different jobs and putting together works packages, as well as processing claims.”

Luke is one of nine council trainees currently competing in the 2014 Brathay Apprentice Challenge – the national search to find the country’s best group of apprentices.

Innovia Films in Wigton won the title last year and the firm has another team entered this time.

And the future for apprentices? Numbers in north Cumbria could soar in the next five years.

A survey by the National Apprenticeship Service states that 33 per cent, of businesses in the north west plan to take on one or more apprentices in the next 12 months alone.

Electricity North West is one of the firm’s which used this week to help boost its recruitment drive to attract new trainees.

Nathan Gillies, one of its trainees based at Dalston, said: “The best thing about being an apprentice is doing something different everyday and you know you are getting good quality training.”

In Carlisle, a skills fair held at the Sands Centre earlier this year attracted more than 2,500 people.

Nationally, apprenticeships are being overhauled following concerns raised about their value and their ability to meet the needs of modern business were raised.

The Government has responded by inviting industry leaders to help draw up the new standards that all future apprentices will have to reach in their chosen fields.

For help and advice on apprenticeships you can view the News & Star’s Apprenticeship supplement here

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