October 10, 2011 by Jeff Matthews
Jeff Matthews is the Business Development Leader at EEF Apprentices and Skills and has been spearheading EEF’s apprenticeship program for 12 years. Leading from the front, Jeff and the team has literally united hundreds of companies with their perfect apprentice and in doing so, has also built the foundations of a solid career for many young men and women.
We caught up with Jeff to discuss the latest influx of engineering talent and opportunities.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Jeff. So how are this year’s apprentices looking?
Extremely positive if I’m being honest! Last year we were dealing with 70 apprentices, 20 of which were part of the Government’s Program Led Apprenticeship scheme which helped unemployed individuals back into the jobs market.
This year, the figures are staggering and we basically have double the amount of apprentices. We currently have 70 apprentices just starting a new semester at the EEF Apprentices and Skills Training Centre, a further 25 hoping to join in October and another 20 which we’re supporting across the UK. And even at this moment in time we’re receiving more calls from companies asking us to help them find an apprentice!
Those figures are phenomenal Jeff. I bet you’re a busy man! How many of those are first time apprenticeship schemes?
I believe this is a first for roughly 25-30 companies which again are on the up. We’re also seeing an increase in organisations actually reinstating their apprenticeship program after a ten year absence for example. One client, who springs to mind, recruited their last apprentice thirty years ago! So it’s great to see manufacturing organisations returning to their routes.
And why do you think that is?
There’s a skills shortage without a doubt. We’re hearing regular case studies of organisations struggling to find suitable candidates for specific roles within manufacturing and engineering. And it’s not that the UK has a shortage of these individuals, it’s that they’re not being taught practical engineering to complement engineering theory. Today’s employer doesn’t need just craft people. They need practical engineers with technical skills and ability and that’s what EEF deliver – that’s what companies want. Hence manufacturers are turning back to apprenticeship schemes where they can essentially grow and nurture their own unique talent with our help and support.
So does that mean that qualifications are irrelevant?
No, not at all. Qualifications are crucial but it’s the manner in which they’re delivered that counts. That’s why we operate the EEF Apprentices and Skills Training Centre. This Centre gives apprentices the opportunity to gain the technical qualifications, but to obtain these in an environment that allows them to get hands-on experience. On top of that, it’s not one shoe fits all. Myself and the team work closely with the individual employers to develop a training syllabus that is tailored to their own specific needs and which is taught by experienced manufacturers and engineers, not purely academics.
And is this method appealing to applicants?
Well we’ve had a lot of placements to fill this year and we haven’t struggled if I’m being honest. What’s surprising is the level of candidate that we’ve seen come through our door this year. The quality has certainly increased and I think that will have a direct correlation with the rise of university tuition fees. Today’s youngsters are extremely smart and they’ve realised that an apprenticeship is actually an alternative route into higher education, which has a guaranteed job at the end of it. They’re also aware that just having a degree in engineering doesn’t actually help because they’re missing those all important practical skills that you get through an apprenticeship. Today it’s about growing a technical workforce through a technical route and that’s what employers are heavily investing in.
You mentioned investment. Do the employers have this funding?
Apprentices are extremely cost effective, especially if you have one who is well trained. For some of the clients I deal with, the funding element is irrelevant. What’s absolutely paramount to them is the quality and skills, which at the moment you can’t buy for love or money. Our sole aim is to work together to achieve the desired end product.
And I believe you also help with the selection process?
That’s correct. There are actually very few areas of an apprenticeship scheme that we don’t support. Regarding the selection process, it’s my role to unearth what the company needs and what is required to achieve this role. And this involves more than simply asking questions. We literally investigate every nut and bolt by conducting site visits and really getting under the skin of the client because it’s one thing to find an apprentice, but it’s another to find an apprentice who fits perfectly into a particular department or organisation.
Jeff, you’ve been really insightful. Thanks again for your time.
If you could benefit from a chat with Jeff, contact us here