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My ‘National Apprenticeship Week’

by AELP’s Head of Apprenticeship Workforce Development – Cheryl Swales

Jamie Bell, the actor famous for the role of Billy Elliot and Griffin in the film Jumper; Paul Smith, the frontman of Indie group Maximo Park; and me - Cheryl Swales, AELP’s Head of Apprenticeship Workforce Development! What do we all have in common? We all studied secondary education at Northfield School and Sports College in Billingham, a town located in the North East of England.

I’ll admit I wasn’t the most academic when it came to school but faired ok with my GCSE grades which allowed me to go on to study a BTEC National Diploma in Travel and Tourism at Hartlepool College of FE which I thoroughly enjoyed! I believe the BTEC set me on the right path and gave me more confidence to achieve many more years of study – including graduating from Teesside University with a BA (Hons) in Education Studies in 2010. I completed my degree later in life for various reasons, however if someone told me during my school years that I would go on to achieve a degree, and be in the job I am today, I wouldn’t have believed them!

I’ve always been a big advocate for apprenticeships, both in managing the delivery of them in previous employment to undertaking two myself – a higher level apprenticeship in Leadership and Management in 2014, and a Level 4 apprenticeship in Project Management in 2019 – for which I achieved a distinction.


Careers Guidance

On Monday 6 February 2023, the first day of National Apprenticeship Week 2023, I was invited by Mr Ian Clayton, Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance Lead at Northfield School and Sports College (my former secondary school), to attend a careers event for their year 9 pupils with some of AELP’s members. As we know, from January 2023, schools, further education colleges and sixth form colleges are expected to follow new statutory guidance in relation to careers guidance. This was updated following the passing of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 and specifies that institutions must provide all their students with a minimum number of encounters with approved providers of apprenticeships and technical education.

I spent my time listening to Learning Curve Group (Natasha Meyer-Kennedy), Military Preparation College for Training MPCT, an organisation acquired by Learning Curve Group in November 2021 (Emily Archer), and Darlington College (Samantha Matthews) speaking to the pupils in small groups about their hopes and dreams for their own post-16 journey. Some weren’t yet sure, while some had a clear career path in mind. Regardless, pupils were given impartial and helpful advice to take on board for both choosing their options in March and for later for deciding their next step after school, be that an apprenticeship, vocational course, A Level or something else. It got me thinking that I can’t recall any robust careers advice when I was in year 9, let alone year 11 (or fifth year as it was then!). The updates to the statutory guidance announced in 2022 are a great step forward, allowing all providers access to talk to pupils directly about their offer and helping them to make an informed career choice.

A Workforce for Tomorrow – identifying local skills needs in the Tees Valley

On Tuesday 7 February 2023, I attended a Tees Valley Combined Authority event at Teesworks in Middlesbrough, to listen to a panel of providers and employers talk about their experiences of apprenticeships. Teesworks is the UK’s largest and most well-connect industrial zone. The site itself covers 4500 acres, with over £200 million already committed to remediate and prepare land for development. Alongside Teesport and Redcar Bulk Terminal, an all-new 1km quay will provide a gateway to global markets. At the heart of the site, Net Zero Teesside will be the UK’s first carbon capture utilisation and storage facility, capturing the same amount of energy annually as over three million homes. In line with national efforts and Teesworks’ clean energy commitment, the project is set to decarbonise the area’s carbon-intensive businesses by as early as 2030. Crucially, Teesworks will create 20,000 new jobs and contribute £1billion a year to the wider Tees Valley economy; helping to deliver both the UK’s industrial and economic strategy, as well as the Northern Powerhouse Initiative.

The panel discussed how local businesses have benefited and achieved growth from taking on apprentices but also highlighted some of the challenges, including senior team buy in, lack of understanding about the possible returns on investment, a confusing funding and policy landscape and the type and variety of apprenticeships on offer.

DfE Apprenticeship Workforce Development (AWD) Programme

The Tees Valley Combined Authority event was a good opportunity for me to highlight the Department for Education (DfE) AWD Programme. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF), in partnership with the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), Association of Colleges (AoC), Strategic Development Network (SDN), and University Vocational Awards Council (UVAC), and supported by SQW as an independent evaluation partner, is delivering the next phase of the programme. This will, over the next three years, provide fully funded industry-relevant Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to apprenticeship providers, employers and their workforces to ensure its training needs are met to enable the delivery of high-quality teaching and training that equips apprentices with the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed for industry-specific roles.

Online Survey

Partners are currently liaising with the sector, as part of the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) and design phase, to complement the online survey ran between November and December 2022. Responses to the survey came from a range of participants from diverse organisation types, job roles and regions. Anyone involved in apprenticeship delivery was invited to complete the survey and the feedback has given us some really good insight into the current issues and CPD needs.

When asked ‘Which of the following topic areas would you find most valuable for your training and development regarding apprenticeship provision?’ and although respondents valued all priority training themes, respondents from ‘ITPs or other Private Sector Public Funded Organisations’ highlighted ‘Compliance’, ‘Quality and Programme Development’ and ‘On-and-Off the Job Teaching, Training and Learning’ as the highest priority areas (see graph below).

Those who shared their responses on additional cross-cutting topics across provision, such as embedding education for sustainable development within apprenticeships and supporting equality, diversity and inclusion, reported the high value of these topics.


Responses chart

Focus Groups

To complement this feedback, partners have been facilitating online focus groups, throughout January and February, to delve deeper into understanding the issues and training needs to ensure that phase two of the AWD programme offers the right CPD to ensure high quality apprenticeship delivery. Following two really insightful focus groups in January, AELP held a further two groups on Wednesday 8 February and Thursday 9 February. It’s been really interesting to speak to providers in detail about the their own experiences within delivery of apprenticeships compared with the online survey results and the things that would make a positive different to their apprenticeship programmes. Feedback from all of our focus groups will feed into an overall report back to DfE in March 2023 and delivery of new CPD is expected to commence later this year.

We would like to reiterate our warmest thanks to all those delivering apprenticeships who are helping to shape the development of the AWD programme.

In summary

National Apprenticeship Week is a great opportunity to showcase the excellent work and difference that an apprenticeship can make but it’s not just about one week in the year. My blog shows that providing more opportunities to showcase apprenticeships (and other provision) through more careers events, more local events to identify skills gaps and help businesses to fill them and more funding available to the sector to increase the quality of apprenticeship delivery all showcase the important role of apprenticeships, at all levels and in all sectors.


Cheryl Swales, AELP’s Head of Apprenticeship Workforce Development

My ‘National Apprenticeship Week’

By AELP’s Head of Apprenticeship Workforce Development – Cheryl Swales

Last published: 10/02/2023