The staff at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service have many positive things to say about working with apprentices. Cheryl Porter, the Learning and Development Advisor says, “Working with apprentices is extremely rewarding. They are full of passion and enthusiasm and the will to make a difference. I see so much potential walking through the door and to watch them grow and develop throughout their programme is very satisfying”. Hollie Codling, herself a firefighter, adds, “I was an apprentice myself so it’s brilliant to be able to pass on the knowledge and skills I learned to future apprentices”. The service recruits eight apprentices per year to work spread across 15 fire stations equipped with state-of-the-art rescue equipment and specialist vehicles, serving a population of 620,000 people.
County Durham & Darlington’s Apprentice Firefighter Joseph Smith recently shared his apprenticeship experience and his advice for others.Joseph’s story
For employers, one of the best parts of recruiting and overseeing apprentices is watching their skills develop and seeing the contribution they make within their wider organisation. For Cheryl, “The skills development we see for apprentices is enormous. We see their confidence develop and to observe their skills being put into practice in such an important role for many people across our county is fantastic”. Across England, in 2019/20, 146,900 achieved an apprenticeship and went on to make a difference in the communities and further afield with employers of all shapes and sizes.
Apprentice firefighters learn a wide variety of knowledge and skills during their apprenticeship training programme, and learning is very much on-the-job. Some apprentices are brand new to their organisation or to work more generally, whereas others may have been employed with their organisation for a number of years. County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service look for a range of skills across all of their apprentices – “The key skills that are important to us meet with our service values and behaviours, which are: professional, innovative, effective, challenge, conduct, collaborate and change. We are also keen to develop generic key skills, such as teamwork, communication, leadership, listening, problem-solving, mechanical and working under pressure” says Cheryl. Hollie adds, “One of the most challenging aspects when it comes to developing new knowledge and skills is the diverse range of problems to be solved that firefighters face on a daily basis. The new people that apprentices meet and the bonds and friendships created within the sector and throughout the emergency services are really helpful in meeting this challenge successfully”.
Career Prospects for Qualified Firefighters
Apprentices are often keen to find out about the pathway into a full-time permanent job after their training. Across England in 2019-20, around two-thirds of employers with apprentices retained at least one apprentice onto a permanent contract afterwards. Having been an apprentice herself, Hollie says, “Apprentice firefighters typically continue firefighting, and the minority who don’t will go on to use their skills in other aspects of their career – business fire safety qualifications can be very helpful in a number of different roles, as can things like team skills”. Cheryl is keen to highlight that learning doesn’t stop once the apprenticeship is completed – “Apprentices continue to develop their knowledge, skills and behaviours in their job roles and they also have the opportunity for continued development through further training courses”.
Advice from Apprenticeship Employers
For those who are interested in finding out more about the apprenticeship opportunities available, Cheryl has some tips, “One of the best tips I could give anyone would be is to do your research. Find out about who we are and what we do to serve and protect our communities”. She and her colleagues hold positive action taster session events and advertise through their website, social media sites, posters in local colleges and the North East Jobs website. Hollie adds, “We receive a high number of applications and the process is rigorous but my top tip is to approach the journey with a positive attitude and an open mind, and always be willing to develop and keep learning.”