Budget 2021: Apprenticeships mean 'you learn from everybody'

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image copyrightTeamwork Trust/BBC/Gemma Sydenham
image captionApprentices Martha McKeown, Zac Hopkins and Steven Sydenham feel learning on the job has suited them

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he wanted to boost job opportunities with his Budget, unveiling £126m for more traineeships and raising incentive payments for firms taking on apprentices. But what is it like to be an apprentice in an uncertain jobs market and what could the cash injection mean for others?

'It's given me independence'

image copyrightTeamwork Trust
image captionMartha McKeown, 18, said signing up for an apprenticeship at a charity had let her witness her clients' progress

Martha McKeown has been an apprentice for 18 months at a charity for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems.

The 18-year-old, from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, works at Teamwork Trust and helps members in numeracy, literacy, singing, arts and cooking classes, which have moved online due to the pandemic.

While her apprenticeship was due to end soon, it has been extended indefinitely as she was furloughed for five months and her final NVQ exams in health and social care have been delayed.

Miss McKeown said she would like to remain at the charity, but "lockdown made me realise nothing is certain".

However, she was convinced she had made the right choice in plumping for an apprenticeship.

"For me doing an apprenticeship was important because I get to see how my work impacts on individuals," she said.

"I see their progress and how the theory fits in with the practise.

"You can learn from everybody and because your title is 'apprentice' people say, 'I'll show you this or that.'"

Miss McKeown said earning a wage had also given her a head start on saving for her own place to live.

"It's given me a lot of independence - I've been able to do so much. I can save and I have a car - I wouldn't have if I'd been studying full-time."

She also felt the Budget announcement to fund extra traineeships and employers' incentives would give people her age more freedom of choice.

"I think a lot of young people are pressured to feel they should go down the academic or educational route, but feel like they have to rather than want to."

image copyrightPA Media
image captionChancellor Rishi Sunak leaving 11 Downing Street with his red box ahead of announcing his 2021 Budget

What are apprenticeships and traineeships?

  • In the Budget it has been announced cash incentives will be raised to £3,000 for employers who take on apprentices - whatever their age
  • Previously, firms in England got £2,000 for a new apprentice aged under 25, and £1,500 for those over 25, in addition to a £1,000 grant they would already receive
  • Apprentices combine on-the-job training with their studies
  • Most are under the age of 25 and work in the service industries in England
  • They work alongside experienced staff and gain skills specific to the job
  • Apprenticeships take one to five years to complete depending on the level
  • Apprentices need to be 16 or over, living in England and not in full-time education
  • Traineeships are intended to get people into their first job after education
  • They last from six weeks to six months and they are open to people aged between 16 and 24
  • They are not paid but people are given expenses for travel and meals
  • The government wants to create 40,000 more traineeships with the new investment

'I'm a hands-on learner'

image captionZac Hopkins has just finished serving his apprenticeship in plumbing and heating work

Zac Hopkins, 22, has just finished his apprenticeship at a plumbing and heating firm in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, and said he had "never looked back" after taking up the role.

After leaving school he studied IT, but said he soon realised he did not want to sit at a desk all day.

"I'm a more hands-on learner and it's been amazing ever since," he said.

"You're getting paid to learn and you're learning from all different people.

"At the end of it you'll see how far you've come and be really proud of it."

Mr Hopkins' employer Carl Yeomanson said apprentices were the "foundation" of his company and enabled experienced staff to get promoted.

"For me, it was really difficult to get into the trade... so if I can make that journey a little easier then I will," he said.

Mr Yeomanson said the news that more government money was being invested in apprenticeships was good, but felt many firms were still unaware of the benefits.

"It's trying to make businesses realise the low risk but high reward," he said.

'I wanted something different'

image copyrightGemma Sydenham
image captionFather-of-three Steven Sydenham is about to complete his two-year electrical apprenticeship after switching from shop work

Steven Sydenham, 39, is close to finishing his two-year apprenticeship working at French-based industrial group Bouygues - which has seen him divide his time between its site in Barnet, London, and a training facility in Acle, near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk.

As a highways electrical apprentice, the father-of-three said he was now following the career path he always wanted after working at a department store for years.

Mr Sydenham is studying for an NVQ at Electrical Testing Ltd in Acle, which he normally visits for a week every three months - giving him the chance to take away the theory and implement it hands-on back on site.

He said his age meant he received a slightly higher apprenticeship wage, while his wife worked and it had not been a "massive cut" from his previous earnings.

"I had my first child when I was 18 - I should have pursued it but I needed money and it would have been particularly difficult with a young child, but I wish I had," said Mr Sydenham.

"I was really interested in electrical testing through my uncle when I was younger.

"I decided I fancied a new challenge - not a midlife crisis, but I wanted something different."

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