It’s five big days in the calendar for apprenticeships and Barbara Spicer explains not only what happened before and during National Apprenticeship Week, but also how it aims to attract more employers to the programme.

One week: more than 1,000 events, well on track to beat last year’s record, and trending on Twitter.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll be aware, by now, of what I’m talking about.

Because as you know, this is the seventh year of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW).

It’s fair to say many of the greatest success stories of National Apprenticeship Week are small and medium-sized enterprises”

It’s the week when all eyes are on apprenticeships — when we work with the sector to celebrate apprenticeship talent, skills, achievements and successes and the positive impact they have on individuals and businesses.
A huge amount of effort goes into the week each year, not just here at the Skills Funding Agency, National Apprenticeship Service and National Careers Service, but right across the FE sector and across industry too, ensuring that everything is ready and raring to go on day one.

Throughout the week we promoted apprenticeships at all levels from entry to work to degree level study and this year, for the first time, the recently-launched traineeship programme.

We demonstrated how apprenticeships and traineeships make financial sense for business and are great for personal careers.

But, as the saying goes, it’s all in the preparation.

And I for one know that behind the scenes the ground work has been ongoing for several months.

We’ve put real effort into making sure that our stakeholders have all the tools they need to successfully communicate this week with consistent messaging, giving maximum impact to the National Apprenticeship Week campaign.

Meanwhile, research on apprenticeships has been under-way to support the sell-in of stories to the media, in different formats, way ahead of the week itself and helping to generate record levels of coverage.

We tap into every digital channel we can — Pinterest, Vine, Storify, apprentice.tv — using apprenticeship good news to the maximum, while in recent weeks staff here have worked closely with the Deputy Prime Minister’s office to film the all-important video that launched the week itself.

Yet I’m well aware that it’s thanks to the support of colleges, training organisations, employers and all our partners — many doing their own thing through YouTube videos and social media — that NAW is so incredibly successful.

Their support is fundamental in ensuring we have all the benefits of a consistent, national campaign with the tremendous energy that regional engagement brings.

We have some great household names behind apprenticeships — Jaguar Land Rover, the BBC and BT to name a few.

We are seeing more support coming through from small businesses and it’s fair to say many of the greatest success stories of NAW are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Did you know that nearly a third of SMEs are planning to take on apprentices as a core part of their growth strategy? The week also saw the launch of the SME apprenticeship mentoring service (apprenticemakers.org.uk) which connects SMEs new to apprenticeships to experienced SMEs who can offer free advice and support.

As I wrote this, NAW 2014 was still unfolding and I’d like to share some of my favourite stories so far: Manchester City footballer Jesus Navas planted trees with a local apprentice, the Royal Opera House tweeted its support for NAW 2014 to its 92k followers (and donated its venue for the international apprenticeship conference), while Transport for London tweeted announcing free entry for apprentices to the London Transport Museum.

Back to hard facts. New for this year was the Pledgeometer where, for the first time, employers could pledge their apprentice job vacancies in the run up to and during the week.

And at the end of the week, in a fitting finale, came the Minister’s announcement of the grand total of just how many employers came forward to offer real apprenticeship opportunities that will make a genuine difference to people’s lives, which is what it’s all about.

Barbara Spicer, interim chief executive, Skills Funding Agency