Only one company can claim to have the official apprentice team of the year, but the benefits of the Brathay Apprentice Challenge go far beyond awarding a title, writes David Way

In just two years, the Brathay Apprentice Challenge has become one of the highlights of the apprenticeships, calendar. This year, plastics manufacturing firm Innovia Films beat joint second place teams, facilities management company Norse Group and 2012 winners Cobham, to the title.

But while the focus this week is on the winners, it would be wrong to think that the benefits of running the Brathay Apprentice Challenge stop there.

Supported by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), the challenge tests non-technical work skills and the personal attributes of competing apprentices.

The 90 teams that entered back in January have made well over 300 school visits. Some, such as Unilever, went into schools in South East England to encourage young people to consider higher apprenticeships instead of a university course.

East Midlands Housing Group apprentices passionately described how, as they were delivering their talks, teachers and parents
(as well as young people) were visibly converting to the idea of apprenticeships.

Plymouth Council, winners of the ‘awareness raising’ final, held jobs’ fairs, open days, business breakfasts and VQ Day events to spread the word about how apprenticeships help young people to earn while they learn in a real job, gaining a real qualification and a real future.

The communication, teamwork, planning and logistical skills they had to develop will stay with competitors throughout their careers”

The teams also generated hundreds of pieces of media coverage. Burnley Borough Council’s team even persuaded journalist and commentator Alastair Campbell to turn his blog over to apprenticeships, while Innovia took over BBC Radio Cumbria for the day with one apprentice presenting its Breakfast Show.

The £35,000 that the teams raised for charity is an amazing sum. Team BCTS raised money for guide dogs; Cobham for Help for Heroes; while other teams worked with a range of local hospices and food banks.

This community activity has impressed us so much at NAS that we asked the apprentices at the finals to come up with recommendations to look at how we can ensure more young people and apprentices get more involved in their local areas — we’re looking forward to their report due in the autumn.

Finally, what do the teams get out of the challenge?

Members of each team had to demonstrate the same work skills that they needed to be successful in their careers; the same skills that are valued by employers as the key to their success.

While we provided the toolkits, the structure and the setting for the challenge, the communication, teamwork, planning and logistical skills they had to develop will stay with competitors throughout their careers.

Time and time again during the six months of the challenge, we heard from teams how they had developed as individuals and as a group

While the Brathay Challenge may ultimately recognise one team, employers, communities and individuals have all benefited.

It is not the only challenge we have to look forward to. At the beginning of July, our best young apprentices and employees will compete as Team UK at WorldSkills against the ‘best of the best’ from all over the world.  This is our opportunity to show how talented our young people are — and that can only be good for the future and the quality of apprenticeships.

For a report on this year’s contest, page 10

David Way, executive director, National Apprenticeship Service