National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) takes place between 5 to 11 February 2024 and is an opportunity for the education and skills sector to celebrate the achievements of apprentices around the country and the positive impact they make to communities, businesses, and the wider economy.
In this article, Michele Roberts (Head of Transport Skills, Transport for West Midlands) highlights the key role that apprenticeships have played in tackling skills shortages within the region’s transport sector.
The West Midlands is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented investment across the transport network – so much so that by 2035, the region will need to fill nearly 60,000 new jobs in the sector.
This investment and new job creation presents huge opportunity for our region, with a potential additional social value of £1.7bn. It is crucial that we harness the opportunity and encourage more local people to consider a career in transport over the next decade.
With a high volume of the regional workforce now approaching retirement age, we face the challenge of the reduced ability to transfer knowledge and skills to the younger generation. To help meet this demand, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) launched the Transport Skills Academy (TSA) – a one-stop destination, inspiring the future workforce to choose a career in transport while upskilling the existing workforce.
Apprenticeships play a vital role in addressing skills shortages in the region and bring many benefits for both the employer and employee. At TfWM, we employ apprentices across a range of programmes in different areas of the business, including health and safety, project management, business administration, digital and data, chartered manager and senior leader, with more apprenticeships being planned for 2024. Our apprentices are given the opportunity to earn while they learn, fast tracking them onto a career in the industry.
To support tackling the skills shortage, TSA fostered working relationships with regional partners to raise awareness of job vacancies and career prospects within the industry. Birmingham City Council, Wolverhampton City Council, Black Country Transport, Midland Metro Alliance and West Midlands Combined Authority – have all embraced and supported transport-related apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships are a great entry point for people looking to explore new career paths, providing a wide range of experiences and the chance to earn while you learn, making them an attractive choice in the current economic climate.
After working in retail for five years, Birmingham resident Keya Allen wanted a career that offered job security and opportunities. She joined an eight-week junior software development skills bootcamp, and on completion, secured a job at TfWM. Keya is now doing a Higher Apprenticeship in DevOps, learning a wide range of skills from upgrading databases to looking after the road traffic collisions data downloader. Her enthusiasm and thirst for learning was recognised just last month, with Keya named as West Midlands Combined Authority Apprentice of the Year.
Transport for West Midlands colleagues are encouraged to learn at all stages of their career journey, with the TSA providing access to learning opportunities. Catherine Rooney, Project Officer at TfWM, undertook an Associate Project Management Apprenticeship to strengthen her skillset and experience. Following completion of her apprenticeship, Catherine had the opportunity to lead a project creating an Active Travel Centre of Excellence, supporting the TSA’s work, inspiring new entrants into a career in active travel.
In the last year, Birmingham City Council offered two Transport Planning Degree Apprenticeships and successfully filled both roles. The transport planning team has hugely benefitted from bringing young people into their team to share their learnings and ideas from their degree courses and are helping to shape the future of the sector.
When asked why he decided to start an apprenticeship, Apprentice Transport Planner in the City Centre Team at Birmingham City Council, Ben Butler, said: “I believe that an apprenticeship is an ideal way to establish a solid foundation within a career. The structured nature of apprenticeships allows for ample opportunities for continuous development and learning, which helps to facilitate the transition into professional working without overwhelming pressure.”
Wolverhampton City Council found similar experiences when employing apprentices with Black Country Transport, who offer two positions annually alongside two graduate placements. Employers found that the individuals coming through apprenticeship schemes were able to improve the overall skill base of the transport team over time, and they are looking to expand on this in future years.
Emily Cooper, Transport Planner Degree Apprentice at Black Country Transport, added: “This apprenticeship is a great opportunity to gain skills in design and writing, communicating, negotiating, project management, taking the lead on smaller tasks within a wider project and working for the best outcome for everybody. You can progress to many jobs using the skills and experience gained here.” Emily splits her time working between Wolverhampton, Sandwell, and Birmingham.
The Midland Metro Alliance, who consists of the WMCA and a joint venture consortium of construction and design partners, has also been working with TfWM since 2016 to deliver apprenticeships in a range of roles and at varying levels, including leading a group which created the first apprenticeship in the country sharing the skills and knowledge required to deliver light rail projects.
They offer apprenticeships ranging from customer service technicians, through to business admin, marketing, and quantity surveyors – working both on site and in their offices across the West Midlands – encouraging skills retention within the local job market.
It is crucial that as a region, we continue to challenge perceptions of the transport sector and inspire people – no matter their age or background – into a career in the industry over the next decade. Apprenticeships are a valuable gateway for anyone looking to develop their skills and learn on the job, and through working collaboratively, we can provide people with the resources and guidance to better connect them with the right opportunities – helping to build a better resourced and more capable transport network.
ABOUT OUR AUTHOR:
Michele has spanned a career working across education, skills policy and delivery for both central and local governments for more than twenty years. Her areas of expertise are in apprenticeship policy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as higher and degree apprenticeships.
Early in her career, Michele worked with employers as an Investor in People Assessor and Adviser, which led her to provide consultancy services on business improvement through people. More recently, she has been working in higher education to support the implementation of apprenticeships, which earned her the Vice Chancellor’s Award for achievement.
Michele has worked with different industries across the country to improve skills levels and facilitate access to jobs through policy areas such as National Skills Academies, Training Quality Standards and Centres of Vocational Excellence.
Her more recent roles include Head of Apprenticeship Hub at the University of Wolverhampton, which led to her current role at TfWM as Head of Transport Skills, where she has overseen the development and launch of the Transport Skills Academy.
Michele is a strong advocate for working with young people to support their aspirations and identify opportunities for growth in skills and employment, which continues to drive and motivate her.