How blue light services benefit from giving apprenticeships the green light

There can be little doubting the value that apprenticeships bring to the emergency services. Passion, commitment, motivation and a fresh perspective are among the key benefits commonly cited by apprenticeship champions in fire and rescue, policing and the ambulance service.

SFJ Awards works with blue light employers across the country, and they regularly tell us that one of the biggest draws of apprenticeships is that they are a key avenue for attracting top talent to the sector.

Take the example of would-be university entrant PCSO Maisie Rowan of Surrey Police. Swayed by the opportunity to earn while they learned, Maisie chose the Level 4 Police Community Support Officer Apprenticeship over a 3-year undergraduate degree in 2019.

The recruitment of more university calibre apprentices is not only opening up previously untapped talent pools, it is also helping to transform the image of a career in the emergency services, by putting them on par with careers typically requiring an academic degree.

In the long-term this will have the benefit of raising the bar when it comes to career aspirations and professional standards across the sector. Something which has been talked about for many, many years.

“Through a unique blend of classroom learning and on the job training, the apprenticeship model offers a recognised and well-balanced route into a blue light career.”

Bringing experience from other roles

It is not just young people or those fresh out of education that apprenticeships are designed to attract. Apprenticeships are open to all and there are countless examples of career changers joining emergency services from other sectors, bringing with them new ideas and a fresh perspective.

County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue’s Joseph Smith left his career as a mechanical testing engineer for a Level 3 Business Fire Safety Apprenticeship. He said, “Working with my team is brilliant, each one of them has been very open and
friendly. In this career, you will always be meeting a lot of new people, which is something I really appreciate about
this job. I feel proud to work for the fire and rescue service and I can’t wait to get more involved in contributing to an already fantastic service!”

At Sussex Police, PCSO Mark Ridley joined as an apprentice following a career cut short in the armed forces. He shared his story, “I returned to work within the civilian sector but found that I was missing a purpose and the satisfaction I used to feel when within the Army. After some time out to think about my next steps, I found I had the desire of getting back into uniform and decided this apprenticeship would provide me the opportunity to once again, serve a purpose.”

Both found a renewed sense of purpose and motivation to learn new skills since making the move.

Supporting apprentices

The motivation and will to succeed that apprenticeships bring is something Cheryl Porter, Learning and Development Advisor at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, knows well.

The service, which recruits up to eight apprentices per year to work across 15 fire stations serving a population of 620,000 people, is a key champion of apprenticeships. Cheryl said, “Apprentices 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.”

Against the backdrop of a shifting labour market in which many employers are struggling to attract and retain talent, there is a clear business case for apprenticeships in terms of workforce retention and developing future leaders.

Having completed their apprenticeship programme, Cheryl said that in her experience apprentices hold on to their passion for career development and learning with most continuing “to develop their knowledge, skills and behaviours in their job roles.”

Apprentices reflecting their communities

Looking at the bigger picture, apprenticeships also play a part in supporting the societal role of emergency services. As core public services so central to all of our lives, it is imperative that emergency services’ workforces are reflective of the communities that they serve.

Apprenticeships, as Adrian Rutherford, Director of People Services for Surrey Police and Sussex Police has found, are a key vehicle for achieving this through widening participation. “Since launching the PCSO apprenticeship route into Surrey Police and Sussex Police in 2019, we have seen high interest from people of all walks of life who wish to start, change or develop their careers,” says Adrian.

As forces, it is imperative that we explore new opportunities to bring people into policing as their knowledge, experience and insights can help shape the way we engage with and serve our diverse communities.”

In addition to reflecting the communities that they serve, it is crucial for emergency services to instil public confidence and retain the public’s trust in the workforce.

“Looking at the bigger picture, apprenticeships also play a part in supporting the societal role of emergency services.”

Rigorous assessment process

Through a unique blend of classroom learning and on-the-job training, the apprenticeship model offers a recognised and well-balanced route into a blue light career that is quality assured by a rigorous End-Point Assessment, ensuring that every apprentice is up to the job before they are deployed to the frontline.

Given the underlying strength of the apprenticeships model, it is no wonder that employers too increasingly look to apprentices to achieve their workforce development goals.

Stansted Airport (working with their training provider Capita) became the first airport in the UK to put new recruits through the Level 3 Operational Firefighter Apprenticeship, regarding apprenticeships as the natural choice to grow their team. Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service is similarly effusive about the power of apprenticeships, offering them as an entry route into firefighting, technical and managerial roles.

For these reasons and so many more, our blue light employers are reaping the benefits of giving apprenticeships the green light.

Visit SFJ Awards at the Emergency Services Show 2022, on stand I41.

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