With youth unemployment at an all time high it is easy to see why Apprenticeships are seen as a high priority for the Government. However even though the public sector account for some 20 per cent of the national workforce, they employ less than 10 per cent of all apprentices.

In an attempt to re-address this balance, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has embraced Apprenticeships and is already reaping the benefits.

The Service’s Apprenticeship programme currently employs six firefighter apprentices, four business administration apprentices, one motor vehicle apprentice, one catering apprentice and a finance apprentice.

The programmes vary in length but are typically 2-3 years duration and allow the apprentice to gain specialist vocational and academic qualifications relevant to the area of work.

Apprentice Firefighter Duncan McHugh, aged 20, joined the programme in March 2010. Before being placed at Stafford Fire Station as an apprentice firefighter, Duncan McHugh undertook eight weeks of training – three weeks of core firefighting skills, such as the safe and correct use of ladders pumps and hose, followed by specialist modules involving hazardous materials, safety and extrication of casualties at road traffic collisions, the use of breathing apparatus and ‘First Person on Scene’ trauma care training – run by a key partner at emergencies – the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

Duncan McHugh said: “This is the greatest opportunity anyone who is interested in becoming a firefighter could be given! I am hoping that by the end of my Apprenticeship I will be successful in securing a position to remain in Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. I would highly recommend the programme to anyone or any other organisation; it is a great way to give individuals the opportunity to become a firefighter. Although apprentices receive a lesser amount of pay, the programme is worth its weight in gold as it gives me the experience and enjoyment of a job I have aspired to do for a long time.”

Training Manager for Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Tim Wareham said: “Apprenticeships are considered to be a proven way of dealing with both current and future workforce issues. They have enabled our Service to attract high-quality trainees and improve the skills and productivity of our existing employees. We have also been able to reduce agency spend which has been crucial in the current economic climate.”

“We’re really recognising the benefits apprentices bring to the table – the work that they do is valued by all stakeholders and we’ve been able to unlock some fantastic young talent from within the local community. These young people are our future workforce, so it’s important to engage them and develop their skills at the earliest opportunity, which is exactly what the apprenticeship programme has been designed to do.”

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s apprenticeship programme is run in conjunction with Stoke-on-Trent College. Stoke on Trent College act as the Service’s Apprenticeship Training Agency (ATA). They support employers who wish to take on an apprentice but are unable to do so in the current economic climate. The distinctive feature of the ATA approach is that it is the ATA who acts as the apprentice employer and who places them with a host employer, in this case Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. The Service pays the ATA a fee for the apprentices’ services; this fee being based on the wage agreed with the host and the ATA management fee.