“Apprenticeships can give young people the best possible start in working life,” says Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales

Apprenticeship Week 2022 is here and offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on the value of apprenticeships and the benefits they bring to businesses and individuals.

Clare Pillman, Chief Executive at Natural Resources Wales, an organisation which has recruited apprentices for nearly a decade, discusses why she thinks an apprenticeship makes a candidate stand out to potential future employers.

“Looking back at my own experiences of leaving school and entering the workplace, things feel a world apart compared to the job market and variety of options available to young people today.

“Starting out my career as an administrative assistant within the Civil Service, I was pretty much on the lowest rung of the ladder. In many ways, my journey wasn’t dissimilar to that of an apprentice – working my way up and learning as I went along – and I managed to find my feet and a fulfilling and interesting career, which eventually led me to working at Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

“Although NRW has only been existence since 2013, there’s been a history of apprenticeships within our predecessor organisations, which means we have a rich resource of people working at all levels across different parts of the business who started their careers with us as an apprentice.

“From our Forestry and Land Management teams, to Operational and ICT, many of our staff have benefitted from apprenticeship or placement schemes and have gone on to have long careers, building up a wealth of knowledge and experience.

“In our Crosshands depot in Carmarthenshire for example, we have two people working alongside each other in our Integrated Workforce team, who joined the organisation through apprenticeship schemes but 50 years apart.

“The fantastic thing about apprenticeships is the level of support and tuition that’s available to people and how tailored it can be to individual career aspirations.

“For those passionate about the environment and who want to help make a difference, NRW is a great place to be.

“From the moment they join us, our apprentices are very much a part of the team and have a hands-on and practical involvement in our work, as well as being constantly encouraged and given opportunities to be involved in different projects that will help them grow and progress.

“For example, someone undertaking an Environmental Conservation apprenticeship within our Integrated Workforce Team, will have the opportunity to get involved in a range of different operational work, including carrying out maintenance of our flood defence systems.

“Previous apprentices in our Application Support Team, have had the opportunity to deliver development changes to help improve our existing internal systems.

“Apprenticeships can offer a guiding hand into employment, bridging the gap between school and the working world and are a great opportunity for young people to mature, grow in confidence and gain the relevant skills within the real working world.

“Of course, apprenticeships aren’t only for school leavers, and at NRW we have apprentices of varying ages working within areas of the business. Whether they’re using an apprenticeship to learn new skills and help them progress or have come to us from a completely different industry, it’s fantastic to see their passion for the environment as they learn and apply their knowledge and experience on the job.

“Learning is a two-way process, and we’ve absolutely learnt new things from our cohorts of apprentices over the years and seen the benefit of their enthusiasm and fresh perspective on issues and projects.

“For someone like myself who grew up working in an analogue world, it’s fascinating to see our young apprentices use technology to interrelate with customers and stakeholders that didn’t exist when I was first starting out in my career.

“I remember having a fabulous conversation with one of our Dairy Officers who recently joined the organisation, about how they were utilizing social media to keep in contact with stakeholders during the Covid-19 restrictions.

“When it comes to digital skills, we’ve had senior managers who have been with the company for over twenty years, who tell us they’re in awe about how quickly their apprentices can adapt to digital processes and systems. With many of them having grown up in a digital world where technology is second nature to them, it’s meant we’re able to future-proof our workforce with digital literate employees.

“One thing I’m so proud to see through our apprentices is their climate literacy and how passionate about the planet and our natural world they all are.

“At COP26 last year in Glasgow, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing and inspiring young people, whose passion and knowledge about the climate and nature emergency is something that I see mirrored in our staff and teams here at NRW.

“We have a whole generation of employees who are absolutely dedicated to their work in protecting and preserving our environment. They’ve grown up with the threat of climate change looming overhead and, as a result, it drives them even harder to do the best possible job they can. It makes me proud that our apprentices are true advocates and ambassadors for our planet and the work we do.

“As an employer, knowing someone has trained as an apprentice says to me that they’ve learned to work effectively as a member of a team and regardless of what type of apprenticeship, they’ve developed confidence and competence as an individual. What you are getting as an employer is somebody who has received some quality, comprehensive formal training, and that really makes their CV stand out.

“I believe the support and training they receive means apprenticeships give young people the best possible start in working life, as well as allowing us to ensure we are safeguarding the environment in Wales for future generations.”