National Apprenticeship Week 2021: building back better with apprentices

  • HS2 and Skills Minister pays tribute to employers and apprentices who have gone above and beyond during the pandemic
  • Network Rail deploys innovative technology to help apprentices carry out day jobs
  • Maritime Skills Commission is working to fill skill gaps in the sector, including seafarer cadet review and future workforce in ports research

During National Apprenticeship Week 2021, High Speed 2 (HS2) and Skills Minister Andrew Stephenson has paid tribute to the apprentices and their employers around the country who have been stepping up to keep the country running throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

From setting up mentor programmes and using innovative technology to keep people safe through to launching Wellbeing Wednesdays, employers from across the transport sector have ensured that apprentices have been able to continue to advance their careers in their valuable placements, despite challenging circumstances.

HS2 and Skills Minster Andrew Stephenson said:

This week is a great opportunity to shine a light on the can-do attitude of employers and apprentices during the pandemic.

Apprentices play a pivotal role in bringing new skills and fresh perspectives into the workplace. As they gain the skills and confidence to forge a brilliant career, they lead the way in unlocking new jobs and ensuring this country has the skilled workforce it needs for the future.

It is crucial we continue to attract and inspire a wide range of people into transport careers so we can deliver our ambitious programme of infrastructure investment as we build back better from COVID-19.

Network Rail apprentice Callum was part-way through a placement in construction management at the start of the pandemic, working on large projects including the installation of a dive-under beneath the East Coast Main Line and a bridge replacement in South Yorkshire.

Callum had to immediately adapt to working from home as lockdown meant that worksites were only accessible to those absolutely essential to delivering the project. He was supported by his employer with daily calls to keep the team updated and received a series of talks from mentors to compensate for the lack of face-to-face contact.

Callum said:

Despite the changes, I have still managed to continue my development and work with different teams on a range of projects.

I am now on track to complete my apprenticeship as originally planned and transfer into my first role in Network Rail Design Delivery.

Network Rail has also been deploying innovative technology to help some of their apprentices carry out their day job, including Heather who was able to use a state-of-the-art-augmented reality headset onsite to help maintain social distancing.

Heather, a Railway Systems Apprentice, said:

There have been many changes in our lives from COVID-19 and many new challenges, but at Network Rail we have adapted to this new way of working very quickly, which has made the transition much easier as an apprentice.

Due to COVID-19, I have started working with the signalling innovations team as they needed help with a project that used augmented reality headsets onsite to help keep the 2-metre distance. Being somebody interested in technology, this was fantastic to see and get involved with.

Liam Ballantine, who is in his third year of his civil engineering apprenticeship with Transport for London (TfL), said the scheme gives him great opportunities to gain first-hand experience in the works that keep London moving.

Every day I learn something new about the network and gain a greater understanding of how things work to provide the service we do.

The skills and knowledge I gain is invaluable but also transferable across the business, and helps me tackle challenges I face in all areas of the business that I work in.

Last month, TfL welcomed 56 recruited graduates and apprentices, and a further 103 will join the company in April.

Karen Wallbridge, Skills and Employment Lead at TfL, said:

Throughout the pandemic, we have worked collaboratively across the organisation to ensure support has been in place for our apprentices.

From Wellbeing Wednesdays, where our occupational health team ensure their wellbeing is at the centre of conversations, to our graduate and apprentice group holding virtual lunches – we have, and always will, ensure that our apprentices are supported from the point of accepting an offer.

Apprenticeships provide people with the opportunity to earn and learn the skills needed to start an exciting career in a wide range of industries – everything from artificial intelligence, archaeology, data science, business management and banking to right across the transport sector.

To protect the current and future cohorts of maritime apprentices during COVID-19, an apprenticeship pledge was established by the Maritime Skills Alliance with 34 companies signing up to support the initiative. This week, Maritime UK’s Careers Taskforce has also used National Apprenticeship Week to showcase the breadth of maritime apprenticeships available through a range of interviews, webinars and a toolkit.

The Careers Taskforce, along with the Maritime Skills Commission and Diversity Taskforce, were established during the height of the pandemic in response to the Maritime 2050 people recommendations.

Collectively, they will support the Maritime 2050 ambition to create a diverse and inclusive maritime workforce of the future, with the right skills in the right places, enabling it to capitalise on the new opportunities, including through the global transition to zero-emission and smart shipping.


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