We want apprentices

The Government's third sector action plan was a missed opportunity to create an apprenticeship programme for the sector, says Emma-Jane Cross, chief executive of Beatbullying

Emma-Jane Cross, chief executive, Beatbullying
Emma-Jane Cross, chief executive, Beatbullying

In 2008, more than 220,000 people started apprenticeships. They gained the skills and experience they needed, while companies in nearly every sector of industry reaped the rewards.

The Government recognises the value of apprenticeships and has now agreed to increase spending on apprentices to just under £1bn this year. But the closest most of us in the third sector get to seeing an apprentice is watching Alan Sugar's underlings battle it out on the BBC.

I remember seeing my father's indenture certificate on the wall of our house when I was younger, and experienced at first hand the opportunities an apprenticeship gave him and our family.

As an employer, I'm now experiencing the benefits from the other side of the fence. Apprenticeships aren't new, but at a time when third sector organisations are reporting more staff recruitment and retention problems, while bemoaning skills shortages among employees, I firmly believe they offer a solution. In other sectors, evidence suggests that well-managed apprenticeship schemes have filled skills gaps, increased productivity, improved competitiveness and shaped a committed and competent workforce.

Effective schemes have also saved money on training and recruitment costs because staff turnover rates were reduced.

So what are we waiting for? When the Office of the Third Sector outlined its action plan to see us through the recession, it should have included a framework for an apprenticeship programme specific to the third sector.

I've been pressing the case for third sector apprenticeships for 10 months. Research suggests the sector will support apprenticeships and the business plan is on third sector minister Kevin Brennan's desk. I have convened an action group with the support of Action for Children, the RNID, the RNIB, Marie Curie, Scope and CSV.

Apprenticeship schemes have worked for some of the UK's biggest companies and address some of the biggest problems threatening the productivity, effectiveness and workforce of so many voluntary and not-for-profit organisations.

The Government continues to devote millions of pounds to the expansion and strengthening of apprenticeships precisely because they work. It's time the third sector moved to ensure that a third sector-specific apprenticeships programme sits at the heart of this investment.

The business case for third sector apprenticeships is widely recognised. I've surveyed more than 230 chief executives, directors and senior decision-makers from small, medium and large charities in England, and 86 per cent said they would employ an apprentice.

Two-thirds said they would welcome a framework for the sector. Like me, they see the potential for smaller charities to take on apprentices in development work or administration, and bigger charities would consider employing apprentices in several departments, ranging from research to fundraising.

At Beatbullying, without funding or support, we currently employ three apprentices, delivering bullying prevention work and evaluating its impact. It's easy to see how others could follow our example.

However, it's not just good business sense; I believe the third sector has a social responsibility to young people. Apprenticeships provide young people with much-needed skills, support, training and opportunities to develop and succeed, the social impact of which cannot be underestimated.

Many young people are discarded from education and ignored; they lack confidence, lose sight of their potential and see no future career or progression. Apprenticeships offer them a development and training structure, something to aim for and a sense of being invested in. Their talents are nurtured and their potential acknowledged and believed in.

This breeds hope and confidence, which in turn motivates and strengthens the possibility that they will realise their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Isn't this part of what the sector represents?

It seems to me that investing in the future of our young people, who will work for and manage charities in the decades to come, is exactly what the third sector should be doing.

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