NAW18: The Changing Shape Of Apprenticeships

Northumbrian Water Group
Northumbrian Water Group
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In National Apprenticeship Week (March 5-9), Sophie Pickup looks at the changing face and broadening appeal of Apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity for people to start, or move into, a new career. They have evolved significantly in recent years and many people have yet to notice. 

But this week is National Apprenticeship Week and it’s a great time to start thinking differently about these fantastic opportunities – for businesses and individuals.

Whilst apprenticeships are still available for traditional technical and practical roles, they are now increasingly also a great option to ‘earn and learn’ for people who might previously have chosen a more academic route.

Likewise, they offer an alternative for those who might previously have gone to college to learn about subjects such as business, administration and customer service.

Apprenticeships can also create valuable opportunities for people already in work to increase their knowledge, perform their current role more effectively, and open up more career options.

They enable people to build up work experience, earn and gain a really relevant qualification – up to as high level as Masters – all at once.  Someone doing a degree apprenticeship could end up leading a team before their peers studying at university have even started their career.

We’ve examples of apprentices at Northumbrian Water who’ve taken on responsibility for a team or been promoted within a couple of years of completing their apprenticeship.

Despite figures highlighted in the media recently, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, is, in our experience, certainly encouraging larger employers to think differently about the way they recruit.

The Levy, brought in to raise funds to support a growth in the number of apprentices in the UK, is creating new demand for universities, colleges and training providers to translate academic, vocationally-oriented qualifications into apprenticeships.

Now paying 0.5% of their payroll bill into the Apprenticeship Levy, many larger employers are keen to see a return on that investment.  Over the past few months at Northumbrian Water, we’ve started really challenging ourselves when recruiting: could more roles be suitable for apprenticeship recruitment?

It’s early days, because there aren’t yet appropriate apprenticeships for all of the roles we could consider recruiting differently, it takes time to ensure teams are set up to support apprentices and we’ve seen some big changes already.  There is a real appetite to find a way to make apprenticeships work more effectively for us as a business and the individuals completing an apprenticeship.

We currently have more than 50 apprentices gaining valuable experience with us, and we only anticipate that number growing.

Undoubtedly, this is being reflected in other large employers.

As well as the shift in employers’ thinking, there also needs to be greater awareness among teachers and parents, who have the power to inspire and influence the choices of young people, about the reality of apprenticeships in the modern day.

The myth that Apprenticeships are manual “fall back” options for those who choose not to, or who are told they “aren’t bright enough”, to go on to A Levels, is completely outdated.

It is a much more positive, progressive option.

Here in our sector, the Energy & Utilities Skills Partnership has highlighted the need to bring in 221,000 new recruits to the industry by 2027.

The ability of apprenticeships to meet those needs, not only in relationship to teenagers entering the sector, and certainly not solely through the traditional trade roles, is powerful indeed.

Many of the young people who have joined us as apprentices over the years have developed skills and proved themselves to have the aptitude to be hugely valuable people within our industry for the long term, and the potential to expand this to new areas is very exciting.

To find out more about the types of careers that are available with Northumbrian Water, visit and click on “careers”, or visit

Sophie Pickup is Learning and Development Manager at Northumbrian Water.

About Northumbrian Water Group

Northumbrian Water Group

Northumbrian Water Group supplies 2.7 million customers in the North East with both water and sewerage services, trading as Northumbrian Water, and 1.8 million customers in the South East with water services, trading as Essex & Suffolk Water.

In the most recent survey by the Consumer Council for Water, Northumbrian Water was named the UK’s most trusted water company by its customers, while 2017/18 customer satisfaction scores placed the company in joint first place. 2017 also saw Northumbrian Water named the world’s most ethical water company for the seventh successive year.

Abbey Road, Pity Me, Durham DH1 5FJ. Telephone 0345 6047468. Website:


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