The needs of employers should be running through the veins of the school system. Young people should be fully informed about their choices – and have the vital skills for the world of work, , says Jason Holt.

Apprenticeships have barely been out of the headlines over the past six months.  There have been two major government-commissioned reviews – my own (into making apprenticeships more accessible for small businesses) and Doug Richard’s independent report on the future of apprenticeships.

It is gratifying to see that recommendations from both reports are beginning to come to fruition. For instance, trade associations, professional bodies and banks now act as brokers, with Barclays Bank today connecting its SME client base to would-be apprentices. Communications have been simplified and web navigation overhauled to make the journey more intuitive for employers.

I particularly welcome the announcement that a programme of traineeships – designed to help young people develop the skills they need to secure apprenticeships and other sustainable employment – will be launched later this year.

This chimes with what many SMEs told me: that they were reluctant to take on apprentices because the young people who turned up at their doors were simply not work-ready.

For too long vocational training has been regarded as the ‘poor relation’ of HE. The tide is turning, but much work is still to be done, particularly in encouraging schools and industry to work together more closely.

We need to plant the seeds that encourage young people to think about careers in areas such as manufacturing, engineering and product design early on, possibly as early as primary school.

Local employers need to develop partnerships with schools, offering work experience, vocational placements and giving information about career opportunities in their field.

We have embraced this approach at Holts Academy, a social enterprise set up by Holts to provide vocational training for the sector.  There are a host of career opportunities in the jewellery industry, from design and manufacture to retail and administration.  Jewellery is, however, a ‘hidden’ industry and we recognised that to ensure a supply of young talent, we had to get out and tell young people about the opportunities on offer.

Our academy team regularly host ‘have a go’ sessions in schools, at careers fairs and at community events.  We give young people the chance to get ‘hands on’; to get a real sense of what jewellery manufacture is all about.  Young people can experiment, for example, with making a key fob out of a piece of sheet metal.

We also work closely with specific schools in our area, informing young people about jobs in the trade, but also giving them much-needed help with job applications, CV writing and interview skills.  We welcome pupils into our academy for day-long workshops.

From this September we will work with five schools in a number of London boroughs. Pupils will spend three days a week at school studying for their academic qualifications and two days at our academy working towards our nationally accredited Jewellery Retail diploma.  We are also working with schools in Birmingham (a regional hub for the jewellery trade) on a series of mini, pre-apprenticeship programmes.

This is a prime illustration of how industry and education can join forces, to make a real difference to the economic future of our country.

Jason Holt is chief executive of Holts Group of Companies and author of the Making apprenticeships more accessible to SMEs review

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This article was published in a special 16 page National Apprenticeship Week 2013 supplement (click on image below to download 15mb PDF