Apprenticeships are rarely out of the news these days; just last week the Skills Minister made a statement about them in the House of Commons, adding that we will hear much more detail in the Chancellor’s budget statement tomorrow (16th March). That is going to be of great interest to me and many others in similar roles.
But what I’d like to do is to turn the telescope round for once, and look at them from the inside. Why is an organisation like GM Fire and Rescue Service so committed to apprenticeships, what do they mean for us and what is it like for a young person to be an apprentice in our service?
For us, apprenticeships are a big part of our future and are a key aspect of an organisation that is always developing and growing as public needs and expectations change. Our apprentices are stepping into full-time jobs in a fire and rescue service that is far more complex and responsive than ever before, and the kind of roles they are taking up are key to the future. They are joining a service that
- is the first to move from home safety checks focusing solely on fire safety to Safe and Well visits that cover fire and domestic health, safety and well-being issues
- is the first to have all of its front-line fire engines responding alongside the ambulance service to cardiac arrests – we responded to 86 just last week
- is participating in a Public Health England pilot, along with our counterparts in Staffordshire and Gloucestershire, looking into measures to prevent winter deaths among older people
- is introducing six community response vehicles, smaller than traditional fire engines but able to respond to the same emergencies as well as providing an enhanced preventative approach
The development of young people is essential in this change process. Working with The Manchester College, we have set up apprenticeship programmes that are key to all of these initiatives, in particular our Community Safety Adviser and Business Safety Adviser apprenticeships. Recently four of our young apprentices moved straight from these to become qualified Community Safety Advisers. This is a big part of the future for our service and with a supportive policy environment, there will be many more of these young recruits in valuable roles.
With an understanding of issues facing public bodies, Government and the new agencies about to be set up to run apprenticeships, such as the Institute for Apprenticeships, can help us to truly innovate and expand a quality provision. Without clearer guidance and understanding there is a risk that some public services shift from high quality apprenticeships, focused predominantly on younger people, to workforce development in general.
We live in the real world: as an organisation we fit our commitment to apprenticeships into a context in which there remains a great deal of uncertainty and lack of clarity; to address some of this we have developed our draft Corporate Plan 2016 – 2020, which is currently out for public consultation.
The plan is very much geared towards engagement with you, our communities, and the quality of our operational response. I invite you all to read it and give us your views.
Meanwhile, you can be assured that GM Fire and Rescue Service will continue to be in the forefront not only of supporting apprenticeships but of continually developing and improving our service to the citizens of Greater Manchester.