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Apprenticeships Get Youngsters Off To A Flying Start
- AuthorChristina Coates
“When I left school I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I remember being 17, and knowing I had big life choices to make but not knowing which way to go. I was terrified to be honest. And I think a lot of young people feel that way at that point in their life.”
No doubt Christina Coates, from Morriston, speaks for many youngsters when she talks about those first months, fresh out of school, when the realities of entering the working world, coping with interviews, learning an array of unfamiliar skills and rubbing shoulders with a host of new people, begin to dawn on them.
Luckily for Christina she was welcomed onto an apprenticeship scheme with South Wales Solicitors JCP, and three years ago, aged 22, she found her niche.
Now the Marketing Co-ordinator for JCP, Christina is a valued member of the team and someone who can be relied upon to join in the firm’s roster of social activities. (Christina will be joining 20-plus colleagues who will lace up for the JCP Swansea Half Marathon in June.)
Christina says: “Joining the JCP apprenticeship scheme was the best thing I could possibly have done, even though I didn’t realise it at the time. When I was offered the marketing role at JCP three years ago with no previous marketing experience, I realised how much that one apprenticeship year, back when I was 17, really changed my life.
“When I look back at how unsure I was about the working world and how nervous I was during my interview I feel as if I am looking back at a different person!”
Christina joined the company in 2006 after completing her GCSEs. She began on a wage of £80 per week, working in the Swansea office for four days each week as a trainee legal secretary and spending a day doing a formal qualification and training offsite with Swansea’s ACO Training. The scheme ran for a year, including a three month probation period.
JCP has welcomed 20 such apprentices through its doors in recent years, most of who have gone on to work for the business full time, as Legal Cashiers, HR Assistants, Paralegals, Administrators, Marketing Co-ordinators and in other roles. There are eight young people gaining valuable training and experience as apprentices for JCP at this present time.
Christina says joining JCP as an apprentice opened the working world up to her in a way that was nurturing and safe.
“All apprentices at JCP are assigned a mentor to guide them through processes and to help them with any issues or worries. My mentor left the company some years ago but because she was so supportive I am still very much in touch with her.
“I will still call her if I have a problem because we built up such a strong friendship. “The mentoring scheme here is very robust – it really works”.
“I feel too that being an apprentice here at JCP gave me access to so many different departments and to people with so many roles in the company – so as a new starter I was dealing with everyone from trainees to partners and solicitors - people in their early twenties to people with forty years experience in the legal sector. I would never have been given that opportunity to learn from people across the board in the same way if I wasn’t on the apprenticeship scheme.”
Of course some young school and college-leavers are wary of apprenticeships, since they are low paid initially, until the training period is completed. And some may worry that after working for small financial returns they might not come out of the experience with a secure job offer at the end of it.
But, says Christina, any company worth its salt will operate apprenticeships in a way that is beneficial both to the employee and the employer.
Clare Davies, Head of HR Services at JCP Solicitors, says the benefits to youngsters of taking up a high quality apprenticeship are clear: “Most of our apprentices have completed the Level 2 in Business and Administration, which gives them a firm grounding in all aspects of administration and understanding of how businesses work.
“They go once a week to the apprentice provider, where they will get full support from a dedicated mentor. They can then use their practical experience from JCP Solicitors, to help them complete the theory.
She continues: “In most cases, their friends are still in college with no paid experience. And for JCP, it is a way for us to get talent through the door, who are keen to learn and develop into their role.”
Christina agrees that opting for a good apprenticeship scheme can be the wisest option for young people looking for meaningful employment in a sharply competitive market.
“When I look at the choices some of my friends made back when they were leaving school – many of them went to university for years to work towards degrees but they haven’t come away from the experience with the keys to the careers they wanted.
“Many of them are working in retail, with big debts. Some of them had to move away to begin their careers after university because the work they wanted just wasn’t available to them at home.”
That account is borne out by recent figures from the Office of National Statistics, which show that tens of thousands of university graduates are earning less than school leavers taking apprenticeships.
2014 research shows that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the £11.10 average for those on work-based training schemes and that low earning graduates were more likely to find themselves in part time jobs.
The good news is that many youngsters in Wales, like Christina, are tapping into the benefits of apprenticeships. According to Welsh Government figures, in 2012/13 just over 28,000 in Wales stared apprenticeships compared to 17,900 in 2011/12.
Clare adds: “I think the success of the apprenticeship scheme is shown from the fact we continue to take on apprentices annually. We are really proud of all our staff members and like to think that we are a very strong team.”
If you would like to learn more about apprenticeships at JCP Solicitors, email firstname.lastname@example.org