The Importance of Apprentices – a Q&A with Skills Development Manager, Rod Harris

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The Importance of Apprentices – a Q&A with Rod Harris, Skills Development Manager for Edwin James Group

As part of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, we talked to Skills Development Manager for Edwin James Group, Rod Harris, about the importance of apprentices.

Edwin James Group has always championed apprentices – with many directors and senior managers starting out through apprenticeship schemes and 12% of the entire workforce currently apprentices. Rod explained how apprentices can help to diversify and encourage innovation within the business and spoke about how integral apprentices are to the group’s continued growth. 

In its recent Environmental, Social and Governance report, Edwin James Group set out its ambition to increase diversity across its businesses, how do you think apprentices can help the business achieve that? 

Edwin James Group has set out its intentions for encouraging diversity in coming years in its ESG report published late last year. As is the case in other industries – diversity in engineering is incredibly important. It unlocks innovation by creating an environment where ‘outside the box’ ideas can be heard. We need to build the future. Recruiting apprentices allows us to build from the earliest stages a more diverse and representative workforce. It allows us to continue building our talent from within and will increase the range of talent in the workforce at any given time. 

A large percentage of the management in Edwin James Group were initially apprentices, so increased diversity at apprentice level can ultimately lead to succession to management and leadership roles.

Why is the Edwin James Group such a great place to do your apprenticeship? 

There are lots of reasons to be an apprentice with us.

To start with, all our new apprentices go through a rigorous induction process where they receive full PPE and a toolbox full of starter tools. From then on in, we help them improve their learning skills and their study skills and outline the support that will be provided throughout their journey. Anyone who has undertaken an apprenticeship or even started on a new career path can agree how helpful and encouraging it is to know support is available. It’s important for us as a business that apprentices feel there is somewhere to turn throughout their journey. 

As apprentices progress, our dedicated EJ Academy provides further training for their career development. The Academy is a standout facility in the engineering industry, and includes a training room that provides simulation exercises for all the apprentices – particularly the electrical apprentices – prior to sitting their final test. We’ve found this really helps with test day nerves and allows apprentices to confidently approach what is an important milestone. As we speak, the Academy is making more provisions for apprentices, not just in their fourth year, but from year one.

I’ve found a very positive and supportive attitude around apprenticeships at all levels of the business, something that has been remarked upon by the industry training bodies I’ve spoken to regarding the support and standard of our programmes. 

Why are apprentices so integral to the group’s growth?  

There is an acknowledged – and real – skills gap in the engineering industry. Given that challenge, we need to focus on recruitment to successfully grow the company. Making sure we recruit, and support apprentices is a key part of our growth, helping us close the gap and allow the Edwin James Group to continue to grow and expand.

With a large proportion of our leadership and management starting out as apprentices, it’s clear to us how important fostering young talent is. They’re the lifeblood of our growing business. Right now, some of our past apprentices are site supervisors, contract managers, accountants, quantity surveyors, operations directors, and leaders of the future.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.’

If you’re considering an apprenticeship scheme, what steps do you need to take to apply? 

It’s a straightforward process. Our website advertises vacancies including apprentices, as does LinkedIn. Even if we have no current positions available, we keep the applications on file to contact when something comes up in the areas they’re interested in. Mostly, for me, it’s important that people know we want them to succeed in a career they’re passionate about. There are so many routes to take when you choose a career in engineering, and an apprenticeship is a great place to start.