Thursday, 5 February 2015

Apprentice success story

*Not* the library apprentice!
Image by Loren Javier
In 2012, the library in which I work appointed an apprentice. I'll admit that, back then, I was hugely sceptical. I felt the government was trading on the well-respected reputation of apprenticeships from decades gone by; my father, for instance, completed a 6 year apprenticeship to become a master craftsman. I wondered if a modern-day apprenticeship could offer a valid comparison. I was also concerned about the salary offered as it was much lower than that of a standard library assistant. I didn't want the apprentice to be short-change financially. However, I had no valid knowledge of apprenticeships and I am pleased to say my preconceptions were wrong.

During 2014, the apprentice completed her two year contract and was offered a permanent position within the library team. We were not obliged to offer a permanent post after the end of the contract, but we submitted a bid to do so which was accepted by HR. She had become a fully-contributory team member and of great value to the library.

Having worked with the apprentice for two years, I now see the possibilities apprenticeships can offer and the benefits they can bring to all parties. The library apprentice not only gained new library-related skills, but she also visibly increased in confidence. She achieved two NVQs alongside the apprenticeship. The college stipulated that these had to be selected from courses offered by the college, which meant a library skills NVQ was not an option; instead the apprentice undertook NVQs in business administration and customer service, both of which cover competencies utilised within a library setting.

The apprenticeship had a positive impact on all members of the library team and I am glad the department had the opportunity to work with an apprentice. Everyone in the team has developed and grown from the addition of an apprentice in the department. We learnt to creatively engage and develop our own staff, as working with an apprentice presented challenges which were new to us. We learned to consider different factors when appointing on temporary contracts, and how to offer support and assistance. It was a valued learning curve for us all, both professionally and personally. The apprenticeship also gave us a defined link to the college's enrolled apprentices and how we could better support them as learners.

I now work with a different apprentice (in our partner college) and see a similar positive pattern. Due to his personal interests, the apprentice contributes a wealth of IT technician-related competencies which wold otherwise not be present in the department. In this way, the sharing of skills is a two-way street which benefits everyone within the library team.

Two years ago, library apprentices seemed quiet rare but now these positions are more common. I like to think this is not only die to financial restrictions, but also because apprenticeships are increasing on a national scale as people realise they are a positive pathway to employment for many people.

When our apprentice accepted the permanent position, I contacted the college PR person as I felt this was a success story which would be suitable for the local press. The story was included in a local newspaper, showing how the library can contribute to external promotion of the college. It was exciting and fun for us to read about our very own library in a newspaper, and a great way of celebrating the successful completion of the apprenticeship. (A copy of the story can be read here.)

Over these past two years my personal opinion of apprenticeships has shifted considerably - I was once quite sceptical but am now a strong advocate. As the apprenticeship progresses the whole department is strengthened, it really is a win-win situation.

This blog post is the text of an article published in the December 2014 issue of Quality Impact, the magazine for the Council for Learning Resources in Colleges (CoLRiC).

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