Changes to the way we work remain one of the biggest effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and while many businesses bunker down and adopt a survival mode position, apprentices are feeling the impact of these changes more than ever.
Milton Keynes-based business Plumbing and Gas Solutions Limited explores the role businesses have in supporting apprenticeships at this difficult time and explains how they have become the ‘lifeblood of their business’.
In the first weeks of lockdown apprenticeship starts dropped significantly, with providers reporting an 80% reduction just a month into the pandemic. For some apprentices this meant a break in access to training, working and learning from home, moving to a full-time job or even redundancy in some extreme cases.
With employers hit by lockdown it’s understandable that apprenticeships may not be at the top of their minds, but this impact does not show the full story. Despite the ongoing challenges, there are companies that have remained committed to apprenticeships, seeing them as a crucial part of their development strategy throughout this difficult time.
Carl Yeomanson is the owner of Plumbing and Gas Solutions Limited and is passionate about giving back to the community they support and nurturing new apprentices.
“We currently have two apprentices and another that has just finished and become fully qualified, and we are looking to add another one to the team,” said Carl.
“Apprentices complete the chain which allows everyone in the business to progress in their journeys. Experienced engineers pass on their knowledge to apprentices so that they can then concentrate and push into other more complex areas of the mechanical spectrum. There is a clear vision of progression within the company and our apprenticeship schemes, which in turn helps motivate and inspire everyone in the business.
“My passion for supporting apprentices comes from my own experiences of starting out in a career. I found it very difficult to enter the industry and ended up having to do it on my own. If I’m able to make someone’s journey easier than mine and open up some doors, then I’m going to do it as much as I can.
“I genuinely love our industry and without new people coming on board and receiving good-quality training we will see huge problems in the not-too-distant future. Sanitation and warmth are critical to every building, and plumbing and heating is something that is often taken for granted. We need to ensure our industry isn’t devalued and continues to operate at the highest level possible – this can only happen if we have a strong supply of good-quality engineers.
“The pandemic has caused so many apprentices to be made redundant, courses cancelled or their education paused. I receive so many CVs each week, each accompanied by their own sad journey about how individuals have been let down or left completely in limbo. This generation could be lost if something isn’t done to help.”
Eamon Wilson is the Managing Director of EAS Mechanical Limited, and they match apprentices with Plumbing and Gas Solutions Limited and many other companies within the plumbing, electrical, heating and ventilation and gas industries.
“We’ve been working with Carl and the team for over three years now after they approached us with their requirements for taking on new apprentices. As a business that’s keen to grow, it’s clear how passionate they are about growing and training their apprentices. We know their recruits receive a great all-round experience working on a wide range of complex systems. Our sector has always seen areas in which it’s hard to recruit experienced engineers, so for businesses like PGS Limited, that are developing their own, there are significant benefits to be gained in the long term.
“Despite the drop in starts and uncertainty for the apprenticeship sector as a whole, we have actually seen an uptake in companies taking on apprentices within our industry and in some cases, we have had to turn people away due to our courses being full. It will be interesting to see the latest figures when they are released in terms of national intake numbers.”
Harvey Radcliffe, from Kettering, started his apprenticeship with Carl during the pandemic after being let down several times by other companies.
“I was keen to get experience in a real working environment which is why I decided to pursue the apprenticeship route,” he said. “After being let down several times and not managing to start previous apprenticeships I contacted Carl at PGS Limited, and he offered me an apprenticeship in Heating and Ventilation Industrial and Commercial Installation which I started in November 2020.
“I love being able to learn while working and to be trained by skilled engineers that give me help and support on a day-to-day basis. At the end of my two-year apprenticeship I’d like to become a fully trained engineer.”
Carl added: “I honestly can’t recommend taking on apprentices enough. Employing the right apprentice who is keen, hungry and passionate to learn gives the whole business a boost. By giving that person a real start in their career, it not only gives you a good feeling for helping someone but also gives the business a team member that appreciates what your company has done for them. As they progress through different roles you end up with a colleague that is dedicated to your cause, understands your values and is motivated because they can see they have a clear path to progression.”
It’s unclear what the long-term impact will be on apprenticeships but it’s obvious that there is a great deal of optimism that they remain a crucial strategy for many forward-thinking companies like Plumbing and Gas Solutions Limited. Once there is more clarity on actions for post lockdown, we may see more companies turning their attention to skills development plans and investing in the next generation of vital talent.
Carl has used the disruption of COVID to rethink and reshape his business and recently launched a sister company – Facilities Management Solutions. Like with Plumbing and Gas Solutions Limited he intends to continue to support apprentices and will be developing further schemes and opportunities within this new business.
To find out more about the many ways Carl and the team give back to the local community they support visit www.plumbgassolutions.co.uk/ or call Carl on 01908 104555.