National initiative aims to inspire the next wave of apprentices

Apprentices are blazing a trail across the workplace.Reporter Charlie Bullough looks at two contrasting stories during National Apprenticeship Week, which runs until March 8.

Prime Minister Theresa May with Apprentice Natasha Meek at Yorkshire Post Newspapers in February 2018.
Prime Minister Theresa May with Apprentice Natasha Meek at Yorkshire Post Newspapers in February 2018.

Apprentices are blazing a trail across the workplace.Reporter Charlie Bullough looks at two contrasting stories during National Apprentice Week, which runs until March 8.

The 12th annual apprentice event wants to highlight the benefits those ‘earning and learning’ bring to organisations and the economy.

A House of Commons Library briefing paper shows 814,800 people took part in an apprenticeship in England in 2017 to 2018.

JPI Media apprentice journalist Natasha Meek at work.

Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Anne Milton said: “Blazing a trail is what being an apprentice is all about and will be our theme for National Apprenticeship Week 2019. Because that’s what’s happening up and down the country – apprentices and employers blazing a trail.

“I want everyone to recognise the change that apprenticeships can bring - for employers blazing a trail to new markets, apprentices to new career opportunities and for colleges and training providers raising the skills levels for everyone.”

One person who has benefited from an apprenticeship is female plasterer Susan Thompson, 28.

The mum-of-one joined the First Ark apprenticeship scheme in 2015, working in facilities management.

Female plasterer Susan Thompson, who did an apprenticeship.

Susan said: “The division employs very few women, in fact I’m the only female plasterer.

“My dad, brothers and uncles are all in the building trade and I’ve always had an ambition to work in the construction industry. After enrolling on a plastering course and qualifying in 2010, I then gave birth to my daughter. I found it difficult to find a job without practical experience and had the added challenge of wanting to work around nursery opening hours.

“After discovering the First Ark apprenticeship scheme I was bowled over when I realised it offered the perfect opportunity to improve my skills, earn a fair wage and work flexible hours.”

Susan has now risen through the ranks after being mentored by expert tradesman. She was first promoted to the role of multi-skilled apprentice and is now a handy person assessor in the care and repair team in Vivark, part of First Ark Group in Knowlsey, Merseyside.

Female plasterer Susan Thompson, who did an apprenticeship.

National Apprenticeship Week 2019 will also show the number of high quality of apprenticeships opportunities at all levels around the country. These include a wide variety of sectors like aviation engineering, finance and policing. Apprentice journalist Natasha Meek, 20, is a firm believer in the initiative. She chose to opt out of the university route after her A levels to pursue a more direct route into the newsroom - an 18-month on-the-job apprenticeship.

She is one of seven apprentice journalists from a range of backgrounds who are now working for this paper’s parent group jpimedia. The group, the company’s first apprentice journalists, work across a wide range of newspapers and websites as well as undertaking industry-leading professional training in association with local colleges and the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

Natasha said: “I love the fact that I am earning and learning in my apprenticeship. The pressure on young students to go to university is immense and very overwhelming. It can often be isolating when A Level students decide they want to take a different route into their chosen career.

“As an aspiring journalist I wanted to get experience in the newsroom and learn as I went along. I think so far this has been the right path for me but I understand it isn’t for everyone. It’s all about how you learn best.

“University is expensive but not always worth the cost. The cost puts a pressure on young people to follow through on a career that they might find out isn’t right for them. I see this all the time. Most people do a degree because their college forced them into it but lack passion and drive for the subject they study. You can’t put a price on learning as you go from experienced journalists.”

Last year Natasha got to take her praise of the apprenticeship scheme right to the top, when Prime Minister Theresa May toured her workplace.

Natasha, who works on a vast array of titles out of The Yorkshire Post’s office in Leeds, said: “I got the chance to explain the importance of apprenticeships to Prime Minister Theresa May. Afterwards I shadowed a reporter who interviewed her for the Yorkshire Post and it was a real insight into political journalism. That’s the sort of experience I could only have had by going down the apprenticeship route.”

A focal point of this year’s event is ‘Big Assembly Monday’ on March 4 when there will be a live video stream broadcast at 10.30am to thousands of students across the UK. Apprentices will explain how to apply for an apprenticeship, what it’s like being one and what career prospects might be available at the end of the scheme.

They will also share their experiences on social media on Wednesday, March 6 using the hashtag #askanapprentice. There is also a NAW 2019 Facebook frame to personalise your profile photo as well as a ‘Fire It up’ motion graphic to post on Instagram.

Keith Smith, the director of the Education and Skills Funding Agency said: “We want everyone to consider hosting an event or activity so more people get to see and hear about the huge benefits apprenticeships can bring to employers, individuals and local communities.”

For more information see: and follow @Apprenticeships on Twitter.

Follow Natasha and her jpimedia apprentice colleagues @jpimediaapprentices for a taset of apprentice life and to ask them questions.