'Commitment to industry and learners'

During National Apprentices Week, Unite celebrates its partnership with apprenticeship provider JTL

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During National Apprentices Week this week, Unite celebrates its partnership with JTL, a not-for-profit charity that is the biggest provider of apprenticeships in the electrical, heating and plumbing trades in England and Wales.

JTL has a proud history stretching back more than 30 years. In 1990, Unite and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), both being joint parties to the JIB national collective agreement, came together to form JTL – a new not-for-profit organisation to manage training in the electrical sector for England and Wales. JTL became a charity in 2000.

Over the years, JTL has gone from strength to strength. The charity now works with approximately 3,000 businesses and trains more apprentices than anyone else in the Building Services Engineering sector, currently supporting over 8,000 young people in Electrical, Plumbing, Heating and Ventilating, and Engineering maintenance.

In 2020, JTL celebrated its 30th anniversary, having trained an astounding 60,000 apprentices since its inception.

‘Best decision you’ll ever make’

UniteLIVE caught up with JTL head of marketing and communications Cathie Foster, who explained what makes the organisation so unique.

“As a not-for-profit organisation, all of our profit goes back into providing training for our apprentices,” she explained. “It’s very important to us to reinvest in our learners – we provide them with free learning materials and after an apprentice has been with us for three months, we provide them with a free toolkit.”

JTL sets itself apart from colleges as training providers in many ways, the most notable of which is the extra support it offers its apprentices.

“At JTL, each apprentice has a training officer, who has a small group of apprentices that they work closely with and they monitor them on-site. So every apprentice has someone to guide them through the process and this provides value for both the employer and the learner.”

Unite’s national apprenticeships and skills officer in construction Richard Clarke, who is also a JTL trustee, hailed the role that JTL has played in the industry.

“From Unite’s perspective, we see the respect that JTL is held within industry and the wider economy,” he explained. “JTL is a not-for-profit industry charity, with the ethos of social responsibility and commitment to the industry and its learners at its core. Its excellent success and achievement rates show the seriousness taken by the organisation in delivering high quality in apprenticeships.

“As the lead provider in England and Wales spanning for over 30 years, JTL has delivered successful outcomes to tens of thousands of electrical and mechanical apprentices through to them becoming fully qualified, industry recognised electricians, plumbers and mechanical craftspeople.”

A number of JTL apprentices who are Unite members praised JTL and the partnership with Unite.

“I was encouraged from the start of my apprenticeship to join Unite and the advice I received from the union has been amazing,” said one JTL apprentice and Unite member.

“It’s been good to earn while I learned. I think that is one of the big benefits,” said another. “My advice for girls thinking of becoming an apprentice is to go for it. Best decision you’ll make.”

Meanwhile, newly qualified electrician and working mum Kirsten Hopkins explains in the video below why she gave up her accountancy degree to complete an electrical apprenticeship with JTL.

Barriers to apprenticeships

Despite the huge value JTL has provided for tens of thousands of apprentices and employers over the years, there are still many barriers on the whole that remain for would-be apprentices.

Chief among these barriers is lack of information shared within schools, Cathie explained.

“We ran a survey several years ago that found that only 8 per cent of students actually got to hear about apprenticeships as an option in schools, which is really poor,” she said.

Cathie highlighted that the Baker Clause — introduced in 2018 to tackle this barrier by encouraging schools to bring in training providers so they could talk to students about apprenticeships – has largely been ignored.

“We re-ran the survey two years ago after the Baker Clause had been introduced and it only increased from 8 per cent to 11 per cent of students hearing about apprenticeships,” she said. “So what we’ve found is that the main barrier isn’t so much employers not wanting to take on apprentices but school leavers not knowing it’s even an option.

“In the sector as a whole, we really need to continue pushing the point that schools need to be giving schoolchildren all of the options that are available to them not just the academic route.”

JTL apprentice Jasper, who dropped out of university but later flourished in an apprenticeship, is a case in point.

Jasper said in an interview with Apprenticeship Finder  that his school very much pushed university without giving its students any alternative options.

“If you said you didn’t want to go to university they’d still get you to write a personal statement and just apply to these universities,” he told Apprenticeship Finder. “Even if you really didn’t want to go they’d make you sign up to UCAS. There are so many options available to young people besides university. I wish I’d known about apprenticeships when I was in sixth form, as I would have gone straight into one.”

Skills gap

Ensuring more school leavers interested in learning skilled trades are directed toward high quality apprenticeships is now absolutely vital as the UK faces a growing skills gap.

“We’ve just gone through Brexit and there’s been research showing that many qualified workers from the EU are preparing to leave the UK if they haven’t left already,” Cathie highlighted. “That’s going to create even more of a gap.

“What’s more, a large proportion of electricians and plumbing and heating engineers are over 50. In the next decade or so those people will retire and we’re going to be seriously under-resourced in these sectors. Apprenticeships are the most effective way to bringing qualified electricians and plumbing and heating engineers into the sector.”

Richard agreed.

“The UK built environment and infrastructure needs highly skilled tradespeople to make delivery of what is required a reality, from hospitals and schools, through to power generation and housing,” he explained.

“In 2019 a report by The Electrotechnical Skills Partnership (TESP) identified that over five years, the industry would require an additional 12,500 to 15,000 skilled electricians, and even if 5,000 apprentices qualified by 2023, the industry would still face an estimated shortfall of between 7,500 and 10,000 electricians,” he added. “How the COVID-19 pandemic will affect those forecasts remains to be seen, but regardless JTL will be there to assist in the recovery of society and building a better Britain.”

Richard urged young people – or anyone interested in a career change or new challenge — to consider a JTL apprenticeship.

“A career in Building Services Engineering — whether in electrical, fire security and emergency systems; plumbing, heating and ventilation; or engineering maintenance gives young people a trade and profession, an identity and genuine occupation,” he said. “It enables a firm foundation for the rest of their working lives, with a multitude of pathways leading from there that they can diversify into throughout their careers.”

“Choosing JTL will give learners a higher chance of success of achievement, and as the industry’s own provider for England and Wales will ensure they receive the appropriate qualifications and certifications that are respected, required and demanded by the industry in their chosen occupation.”

Those interested in a JTL apprenticeship can learn more on JTL’s website here.

In Scotland, Unite and the Electrical Contractors’ Association of Scotland (SELECT) formed a training organisation parallel to JTL, also in 1990, called Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT). More information on SECTT apprenticeships and how to apply can be found here.

By Hajera Blagg

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