What is it like taking on an emergency services apprentice? The view from employers

To coincide with National Apprenticeship Week 2023, we spoke to employers in fire and rescue about their experiences of taking on apprentices.

Amy Bailey of Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue, Neil Burke of Babcock International, Cheryl Porter at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue, Kathy Collis at Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, Linsey Daniels at Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and Fran Purdy at Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service give us their views.

What sort of apprenticeships do you offer and how do you find suitable candidates?

KC We offer Firefighter, Emergency Call Handler, Project Management and Business Administration Level 3, 5, 6 and 7 apprenticeships. We take on recruits to the fire service and existing staff members who wish to develop and gain new qualifications to either support the role they are already in or develop into a new role.

LD Community Safety Advisor and Operational Firefighter. We advertise all our apprenticeship opportunities via our website, and we recruit apprentices on to the Operational Firefighter Apprenticeship through our whole-time Firefighter process.

What is the best thing about apprenticeships and what value do they bring to your organisation?

AB We have some really talented individuals who will no doubt progress to have fantastic careers in the fire service.

KC It is inspirational to work with apprentices, to support their individual journeys, whether they are new to the service or wishing to develop and progress their careers.

CP It’s amazing to work with the apprentices, at the moment we have approx. 31 following various different standards. I take a great sense of pride working with apprentices, and as a Service a considerable amount of time and effort goes into making the programme work, which has paid dividends and we are now seeing our earlier cohorts begin to success through the rank structure.

NB Observing the journey and accomplishment from raw recruit through to competency.

What is the most challenging thing about becoming an Apprentice in your sector?

CP I would say the most challenging thing about being an apprentice in this sector is to secure an apprenticeship in the first instance, as the process is rigorous and not something that applicants would probably do on a whim. As the Fire Service are dealing with emergency, life critical incidents, this could also be challenging for individuals, however we have a fantastic support system in place for this.

LD In the roles of Operational Firefighter and Community Safety Advisor our Apprentices encounter individuals who require our assistance, which for the majority of the time is during an emergency situation or at a time when individuals are much in need of support and guidance. These situations can be challenging, which is why personal resilience amongst our Apprentices is so important in order to deal with these experiences and perform effectively.

How as an organisation do you support your apprentices?

FP Alongside learning the knowledge and skills it takes to become an Operational Firefighter for Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, we also have a set of STRIVE values. These stand for: Service – making Lancashire safer is the most important thing we do; Trust – trusting the people we work with; Respect – respecting one another; Integrity – doing what we say we will do; Valued – actively listen to others; Empowered – contributing to decisions and improvements. We hope all our apprentices learn these values and strengthen them as they move throughout the service.

CP We felt it was really important for line managers to understand what is required from both them and the apprentice, so we have hosted training sessions with them, outlining the expectations and support required.

KC Apprentices do a mock assessment which is part of their competence assessment in the service which then helps them to improve their confidence for their End-Point Assessment. For those who this isn’t available to if they are in a specialist role, we provide coaching and mentoring in line with other Fire and Rescue Services.

LD During the on-programme training, we provide our apprentices with the opportunity, through training, work experiences and work placements to develop their knowledge, skills and behaviours to underpin their evidence required for the apprenticeship. In preparation for the End-Point Assessment, we provide mock assessments and interactive sessions, delivered by the apprenticeship training provider and specialist staff on each assessment method within the End-Point Assessment. We also have support staff on the Business Administrator and Public Relations and Communications Assistant Apprenticeships and have also sponsored a range of leadership degrees at level 6 and level 7.

What advice do you have for would be apprentices?

FP For people considering an Apprenticeship in our sector, I would advise you to reach out to your local Fire & Rescue Service to see if you can visit the Training Centre, or local station, to speak to other Apprentice Firefighters, crew, managers or trainers to get a better understanding of what the apprenticeship entails, as well as what the role of a qualified Firefighter involves. This way, you can get a better understanding of whether the role of a Firefighter is for you.

AB Research the role of a Firefighter in the modern fire service, be prepared to challenge yourself, be proactive.

LD Be invested in your personal development, develop the key skills, which we deem important to our organisation. Have a desire to support and serve your community and live the Service’s core values.

KC Discuss it with someone who has completed an apprenticeship and their support team to find out how much help you get and understand the commitment to recognise what you need and how it can support you as a person to develop.

CP Work hard on your physical fitness. This is something that is expected of you throughout your career.

SFJ Awards is the End-Point Assessment Organisation of choice for the protective services, with industry-leading expertise in Policing, Justice, Fire & Rescue, Custody and Detention, and Emergency Services. Follow @SFJAwards on Twitter for more live insights during National Apprenticeship Week #NAW2023 or visit https://sfjawards.com/

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