Ruth Martin is well placed to understand the role employers should play in preparing school pupils and teenage recruits for employment. The former business studies teacher has spent much of the past decade developing links between industry and schools. And, as young people development manager for both Land Rover and Jaguar, she oversees their joint apprenticeship training programme.
Martin believes the transition between school and work is often under-estimated.
“I was a teacher for 20 years, and even I found not having a bell to tell you what to do every 40 minutes quite difficult!” says Martin.
“You have to remember that youngsters have come from an educational environment where they have been led by a teacher for six hours a day.
Coming into a workplace where they have responsibility for improving their own learning is not an easy thing to do.”
The point is a timely one, given the government’s increasing emphasis on employers determining the shape and supply of training. This was outlined in the skills White Paper, published in March.
As Land Rover’s corporate responsibility manager, Martin is in charge of numerous voluntary activities undertaken by company staff in local schools. Last year, more than 180 14-year-olds spent between one and two weeks at Land Rover’s two sites in Gaydon, Warwickshire, and Solihull. Martin says they aim to give the participants much more than an understanding of what engineering and manufacturing is about.
“They have to complete an application form and come for an interview beforehand,” says Martin. “They go through what they will have to do in a few months time for real. Even the fact that they have to find themselves in the right place at the right time is different.”
The apprenticeship programme aims to go well beyond the requirements set by Semta, the sector skills council for engineering and manufacturing.
“What we’re trying to do is develop them as people, and introduce them to the values and philosophy of the company, but in a way that will interest, motivate and challenge young people,” says Martin.
The four-year programme is designed to instil apprentices with an appetite for learning and an ability to use their own initiative and work as part of a team.
These qualities are fostered by bolt-on programmes such as a week-long adventure activities during the first year that includes caving, mountaineering and raft building.
In the second year, they attend a two-day event with a hip-hop music company. This involves three workshops covering literary prose, dance and electronic recording, and is designed to develop an appreciation of diversity.
“It’s not just based on race, age, gender etc,” explains Martin. “It’s based on respecting everyone as individuals. The outdoor course is used to develop their leadership and team building skills.”
Although the plans are not yet finalised, a third-year programme based around community activities is due to be launched this autumn. Community involvement is one of Land Rover’s key values, and last year, its employees contributed more than 6,500 hours – worth nearly 200,000 – to organising events and activities in local schools.
In 2003, the company received a Big Tick award from Business in the Community for its involvement in a regeneration programme for northern Solihull. A director and senior managers were sent to two local schools to see how Land Rover could help tackle issues such as low career aspirations and youth unemployment.
It is easy to dismiss these initiatives as little more than good PR, but Martin says the benefits go much further.
“Employees get satisfaction from working with young people, and it also develops them in terms of communication and management skills,” says Martin. “That’s the principle of all we do in education – work on activities that will provide our employees with development opportunities.
“Even though there is quite an additional workload involved, the majority of our work experience supervisors offer to do it time and time again,” says Martin. “It demonstrates that it’s worthwhile doing. They are very well aware that youngsters are not doing the engineering and manufacturing work in schools that they used to, so [we] have a responsibility to show them what it is about and act as a role model.”
Half of last year’s recruits to the apprenticeship programme had previously visited a Jaguar or Land Rover site or done work experience with them, but Martin says recruitment is not the prime reason for developing links with schools.
“The point is to get youngsters interested in engineering and manufacturing. If they don’t come to us, they may go to our suppliers or other engineering companies.”
Land Rover has education partnership centres at Gaydon and Solihull, which cover areas of the school curriculum where its employees have the necessary expertise to help. Last year, more than 7,500 pupils and students visited the centres, as well as 64 teachers seeking help with their professional development. Information and communications technology now accounts for a big part of what the centres have to offer.
“It’s very much aligned to the curriculum, supporting teachers by providing youngsters with something that can’t easily be replicated in the classroom,” says Martin. “Certainly for the primary schools that come and visit and make use of the ICT facilities, a lot of it is because they don’t have sophisticated software of their own.”
With nearly 20,000 people employed by Land Rover and Jaguar in the West Midlands, the 30 apprentices they take on jointly each year is relatively small. But with such intense competitive pressures facing the motor industry, there is little cash to spare in their training budgets. Last month’s collapse of MG Rover, for years a sister company of both businesses, underlines this point.
Ten years ago, says Martin, Land Rover used to recruit 50 apprentices alone, but she adds: “The whole industry is not recruiting as it used to – mainly because the jobs are not there.” As a result, Semta’s two-year foundation apprenticeship programme is now being phased out.
“We work on the basis that if we can’t give them a permanent position at the end of two years, it is unfair on them,” she says.
The first year of the advanced training programme is spent full-time at college, gaining basic engineering skills and studying for a national certificate in engineering.
Apprentices are then assigned to a department, but they still attend college one day a week, and must achieve level three skills in numeracy, communication and IT, working with others and improving their own learning. Although the framework set out by Semta stipulates that they must attain an NVQ level 3 in engineering, most go on to do a Higher National Certificate in their final year.
Courses are provided by City College in Coventry, and everyone Martin oversees in her capacity as young people development manager has come from there.
Her team is made up of two training mentors, two NVQ assessors and a training tutor, who organises the specialised training requirements of each individual.
“They’re all educational specialists and have done apprenticeships themselves in the past,” says Martin. “I don’t think many companies have the wealth of knowledge and expertise in young people that we have.”
The mentors meet the apprentices once a month rather than once every 12 weeks, which is the minimum required by Semta.
“If something isn’t going right, it would be a lot harder to put it right if you only met them every 12 weeks,” says Martin. “They also get much more in-depth support than if they were seeing somebody every 12 weeks.”
The success of the apprenticeship programme is demonstrated by the fact that last year, everyone who completed it was offered a full-time job and, over the past 18 months, only three youngsters have dropped out during their first year.
Demand for engineering apprenticeships
Around 12,000 engineering apprenticeships are started each year in the UK, but this accounts for a tiny proportion of the 1.4 million jobs in the sector. Semta, the sector skills council for engineering and manufacturing, says demand for higher qualified technicians is increasing, and has therefore introduced apprenticeships for adults aged 25 and above for the first time.
Gareth Dix, Semta apprenticeship programme organiser, says: “It is the same standard [as for 16 to 24-year-olds], but it takes account of prior experience, learning and qualifications.”
He adds that the majority of apprenticeships are in the advanced version favoured by Land Rover and Jaguar, but most lack their emphasis on developing skills such as leadership and communication.
“A number of large companies do tend to bolt on additional items over and above the minimum framework,” says Dix.
“They enhance the training programme considerably and give young people transferable skills that can be used anywhere in an organisation, not just in engineering.”
He says Land Rover and Jaguar’s diversity initiative, as demonstrated by the music workshop, is unusual, but valuable, because it encourages people to get on with each other.
“Companies don’t want loners,” he says. “They want people who fit in nicely within a team.”
Ruth Martin’s CV
2004 Vice-chair, Birmingham & Solihull Education Business Forum
2003 Young people development manager, Land Rover and Jaguar
2002 Corporate citizenship manager, Land Rover
1999 Adult trainer, Land Rover
1997 Young people development project manager, Land Rover
1995 On secondment to education partnership centre, Land Rover
1977 Head of business studies departments at schools in Birmingham and Solihull