The challenges we face as a sector are well-known. We’re  competing in a global race where the link between education and economic success has never been more important, but many young people leave education ill-prepared for the world of work. FIS training manager Jeremy Clayton considers how Trailblazer Apprenticeships  can help trainees to quickly acquire the skills required in our sector.

Where school leavers might  sometimes lack the skills or  attributes of good communication, self-motivation, confidence and character, vocational education is meant to help bridge the gap between school and business. But too many of our young people are left without the ability to realise their potential because the present system is failing to equip them with the skills needed and wanted by employers. This hits both the employers’ bottom line and the prospects of millions.

None of this will come as a surprise to employers struggling with recruitment. But it doesn’t have to be like this. The government wants to put education and employers together and get young people ready for the world of work. Vocational education will play a vital role in this.

The government’s paymaster general, Matt Hancock, commented in August 2015: “We’re transforming qualifications, removing the poorest from league tables, and working with employers and others to  develop top-calibre qualifications like the new Trailblazer  Apprenticeships announced in  December 2014. We’re helping young people move from education into employment and, indeed, on to apprenticeships where they can learn and develop. We expect many trainees to follow this route.

“With our reforms to drive up quality, apprenticeships are truly taking off: tougher standards, grading throughout, more assessments at the end and a requirement for apprenticeships to last a minimum of 12 months.”

Trailblazer Apprenticeships

Trailblazers are groups of employers in common sectors who rewrite the apprenticeships standards for job roles in their sector. These standards will, in time, go on to replace the existing frameworks that the current apprenticeships are based on. Some of our biggest businesses and trade bodies, and, crucially, many smaller firms in the supply chain, are at the forefront of this reform. The first Trailblazers across eight sectors included BAE, the National Grid, Cisco, Jaguar Land Rover, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Nestlé, the Royal Society of Chemistry  and Santander; they quite literally rewrote the rulebook.

These Trailblazers have produced shorter, clearer standards –  written by employers for  employers – against which they can easily measure themselves. In doing so, they have created a description of skills, knowledge and attitudes that employees need to  demonstrate in their sector.

But while it’s great to see businesses raising standards in this way, this work can only have a real impact if the funding follows the best training. The government has committed to putting money into the hands of employers so that they can decide which training best meets their needs, and buy it.

FIS is taking steps

Because opportunities to reboot apprenticeships and transform vocational education don’t come along often, FIS has taken the  initiative to co-ordinate the work carried out by the National Working Group for the revision of National Occupational Standards, which form the basis of NVQs in our  industry, and dovetail this into a new Trailblazer for our sector.

In January, FIS submitted an expression of interest to the  Department for Business,  Innovation and Skills (DBIS) to  kick-start the process of establishing a Trailblazer Apprenticeship for the finishes and interiors sector.

By pulling together employers and FIS members, and simplifying the language and processes, FIS aims to produce a standard for new entrants into our sector which reflects the skills and knowledge experienced workers achieve. FIS’s aim is to make the Trailblazer more rigorous, more responsive and more ambitious, helping to nail, once and for all, the mismatch between the skills employers want and those that young people have to offer. In doing so, it hopes that employers will be able to tap into the vast reservoir of talent on offer in this country and build a high-quality workforce that maximises productivity, now and for the future.


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Jeremy Clayton