Chris Townsend: Apprenticeships in the UK – ABM case study

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ABM apprenticeship

In the facilities management industry, the UK is suffering from a general skills shortage. Young people are typically not considering this industry as a career path creating a skills gap. Therefore, it is right that we look to apprenticeships as a possible solution to this problem and highlight the important role they play in bridging this gap.

Open career opportunities that call for individuals with engineering skills far outnumber the supply of applicants. The facilities management industry needs people who are open to related careers, to be aware of all the opportunities that this industry is offering them. Whether these people are students coming from college, after university or later on in their lives, apprenticeships provide a secure route to upskilling and career progression.

At ABM UK, there are apprenticeship programmes dedicated to security, plumbing, cleaning, gas and engineering. These apprenticeships enable people to develop new skills as well as giving people a great start to working life. In all, there are 10 different courses and our apprentices not only earn while they learn, but have the option to work in a variety of disciplines within facilities services, management, which goes up to degree level and engineering.

Education and awareness are the equivalent to condition monitoring and predictive maintenance when looking at diversity and the skills gap. By engaging children that are still early in their education we are introducing them to the possibilities of the facilities management industry, this is filling the pipeline of future apprentices. We are also ensuring there is a diversity of backgrounds in our people that will make our business and profession continue successfully.

At ABM UK we want a pipeline of talented young people who aspire to have a career in facilities management. The individuals in this pipeline will be excited by its potential and would not accept a role in this industry as a back-up if their other career plans didn’t quite work out. We want to make apprenticeships an active career choice, and not a back-up plan.

So what are we doing to make this happen? We are showing that the industry is about more than oily rags and blue overalls. Firstly, we invested heavily in setting up our own training centre to ensure apprenticeships and training are at the heart of our business. In 2018, ABM UK piloted the first ever Junior Engineering Engagement Programme (J.E.E.P) which aims to tackle the perceptions of engineering and facilities management amongst secondary school aged children and their parents. The course of 10 modules, including experiments in conduction, magnets and motors, gives the students an insight into the world

of facilities management and apprenticeships. Something they may have never heard of before. When these children leave school, they will be better informed of their choices and may well consider an apprenticeship in this field, and we’re very proud of the extensive range we offer. And, we’re using our current apprentices as role models and ambassadors. It’s important that young children see people that they can relate to doing really well in these areas, acting as motivation for them to continue to be engaged in the programme.

Take ABM UK former apprentice, Marissa Francis as an example, and an inspiration. She chose the university route, but soon realised it wasn’t for her and chose a different direction – an apprenticeship.Despite losing her mum and being responsible for bringing up her four-year-old daughter single-handedly, she graduated from ABM UK’s apprenticeship scheme and is now a qualified expert in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. We are so proud of everything she has achieved and we’re all delighted that she was named ‘Apprentice of the Year’ in 2017 at the industry’s Heating and Ventilation News Awards.

Alongside the J.E.E.P initiative, as part of our grass roots work, we conducted a piece of research which looked at the perceptions of apprenticeships in this industry amongst 2,000 parents and 2,000 young people aged 11 – 15. A lot of what we found illustrated the perception change work that needs to be done – for example, we found that over a third of parents don’t know what an apprenticeship is. Statistics like this need to be changed. The research also found that a third of parents see apprenticeships as a last resort for young people who fail exams.

The research also found the top reasons that parents were not encouraging their child to undertake an apprenticeship. Almost half thought apprenticeships were poorly paid (43 per cent), because they see it as a last resort for those who fail their exams (37 per cent), and a perception that apprenticeships don’t lead to successful careers (17 per cent). Those with experience or working in apprenticeships know that this is not the case. In reality, recruits in this sector are in such high demand that graduate apprentices are earning between £26,000 and £30,000 just a year after qualifying – usually before they’re 20 years old – and they have no debt.

Initiatives like the J.E.E.P show students at a young age what they are capable of academically. Sometimes we excel at physical tasks rather than sitting in a lecture hall. Showing students the benefits of an apprenticeship could make a massive difference to their life and career path.

Following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017, businesses are coming together no matter what industry, towards the same goal which is to educate the youth through apprenticeships. There is no question that this means the future is looking bright for apprenticeships in the UK, however, it is clear from the research ABM UK conducted that the perceptions around apprenticeships still need to change.

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About Chris Townsend

With over 25 years of HR experience in Facilities Management in the UK and Middle East, Chris has worked with companies that have from a few hundred employees to over 50,000 employees. He now is based at ABM UK as the HR director, managing the team and overseeing HR projects. Chris has brought his high levels and extensive knowledge of the role with him, benefiting ABM UK through his ability to advise on talent development and application of HR strategies across all levels of a business.

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