When 20-year-old Liam McBerney catches up with his old school friends the talk inevitably turns to the future. What becomes apparent, says Liam, is that today’s uncertain and changeable economy is a worrying prospect for many young people.
“The majority of my school friends are at university. There’s only a few us that went onto apprenticeships. Those of us that did are a lot more positive about our careers,” said Unite member and McVitie’s engineering apprentice Liam.
“We’re on good salaries and we’re going to be on even better salaries when we finish. My friends at university have a lot more stress. They’ve got financial worries and are having to figure out what they’re going to do afterwards.”
For Liam, from Salford, and thousands of other apprentices across the country, the opportunity to earning a living while learning the practical and academic skills needed for a fulfilling career has been a godsend. As part of National Apprenticeship Week, which runs from March 6 to 10, Unite will be highlighting the positive impacts of apprenticeships for individuals, businesses and the economy.
Liam began his apprenticeship at McVitie’s when he left school at 16. While it’s been hard work, the payoffs have more than compensated, Liam explained.
He said, “It’s been good to earn while I learned. I think that is one of the big benefits. I work for a big multinational company that encourages training and development continually and have had the chance to study up to degree level. I’ve had the opportunity to gain both practical and academic skills and work my way up.”
Despite their obvious advantages, Liam thinks that apprenticeships are still viewed as a secondary career route. He couldn’t disagree more with this impression and points out that when he completes the apprenticeship next year, his starting salary as a shift engineer will far exceed that of most recent university graduates.
“There should definitely be more of an emphasis on apprenticeships as a career choice. I don’t think there’s enough at the moment. Where I went to school they weren’t encouraged. It was just ‘go to college, go to university’,” Liam said.
“I think some schools and colleges have tunnel vision towards the choices school leavers have. I don’t think the knowledge of what’s available is there: People think that apprenticeships are menial, but that’s not the case. They’re fantastic opportunities and not enough people are getting the chance to do them.”
Liam’s views correspond with Unite’s. The union is calling for increased investment in apprenticeships, not only to provide people with better career choices but also to help close a widening skills gap that sets major obstacles for the economy.
As Britain prepares to leave the EU, apprenticeships that teach the knowledge and skills that are essential for industry to thrive are even more necessary.
Strong trade unions also have have an important role to play for apprentices, Liam explained. After Carlisle was flooded by Storm Desmond in December 2015, Liam went to rebuild the devastated Carr’s biscuit factory, which is also owned by McVitie’s parent company United Biscuits. He was part of group of Unite members who volunteered to help get the factory up and running again.
Not only did the trip help the business onto it’s feet after an emergency, but it gave him the invaluable experience of seeing a factory rebuilt from scratch, Liam told UNITElive.
The union has also been helpful closer to home, Liam said. When he first started his apprenticeship in 2013, Liam explained that the atmosphere between the management and the engineers was “hostile”.
“Morale was its lowest at that point and that rubbed off on us as apprentices,” Liam said.
“But since Unite got involved there’s been big changes and things have improved massively.”
For more information on National Apprenticeship Week click here.
Photo of model for illustration