The power of apprenticeship support
Insight from Steve Gee, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance, Industrial Equipment Division, into the Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme and our long-term partnership with The University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre.
The Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme contributes to the funding of new apprentices in the manufacturing sector in and around the Midlands, helping local SMEs to secure the skills they need for the future.
Now in its ninth year, it demonstrates our long established and continued commitment to help SMEs and their local communities grow, succeed and thrive.
We caught up with Steve Gee, CEO, Close Brothers Asset Finance, Industrial Equipment Division, for further insight into the Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme and our long-term partnership with the The University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre.
The Close Brothers SME Apprentice Programme has partnered with The University of Sheffield AMRC Training Centre since 2015. How did this come about?
At MACH 2014 there were two main issues being discussed - access to finance and new blood coming into the engineering industry.
We came up with the idea of sponsoring young people to enter the engineering sector - SMEs were still struggling after the financial crisis (2008 onwards), which had impacted them a few years earlier.
We spoke to the Manufacturing Technologies Association and they made the initial introduction to the AMRC Training Centre – the rest is history!
Note: MACH – which takes place every two years - is the UK's premier event for engineering-based manufacturing technologies, attracting around 26,000 people across five days to the NEC in Birmingham.
Why have we been doing this, and what is in it for us?
It’s about giving something back – the Engineering and Technologies sectors are very important to us. We support them in many different guises, not only providing funding of new technology but also as part of our responsibility to help address the social and economic challenges facing businesses today, and the apprentice sponsorship is a great example of.
You’ve taken a very close personal interest in the scheme – why is that?
I believe in giving young people an opportunity, while at the same time helping SMEs who may not yet have benefitted from having new ideas in their business.
It’s great to support both the individuals and their employers.
There’s been a noticeable positive shift in the attitude towards apprenticeships over the past years – why do you think that is the case?
I think at last it is getting the profile it deserves. It’s not cheap to invest in apprentices – and it’s important firms see it as an investment and not a cost.
Handled correctly, apprenticeships can help an SME flourish and at the same time develop the individual apprentice.
University isn’t the right path for everyone – would you encourage school leavers to consider apprenticeships?
University is just one route available to young people – it’s a good one, but it’s not for everyone - my personal preference was to get out into the world and build experience and also some income!
If you speak to apprentices at the end of their apprenticeship, you will find many are more rounded than some people who’ve gone down the university route because of the practical, hands-on nature of their education - and they have five years’ more income to show for it.
According to our own research, 90% of manufacturing and engineering firms feel that apprenticeships are at least partly the solution the UK’s skills gap. What’s your view?
I agree entirely. There are skills gaps in most sectors – including engineering and finance. We need to embrace the ideas and practices of today’s younger generation – otherwise we will stand still, which in today’s world means you get left behind.
Many firms (60%) say that if more financial assistance was available, they would put someone forward to participate in an apprenticeship scheme. Would you encourage others to follow in our footsteps?
It’s about seeing the bigger picture. I believe we all have a duty to look at where, as ‘UK PLC’, we need to concentrate our efforts and money.
I would definitely encourage other companies to support apprentices – we know first-hand what a hugely positive impact they can have.