Apprenticeships are about more than skills – they mean social mobility and new ideas

National Apprenticeship Week gives us an opportunity to reflect on how organisations like ours are attracting and retaining the very best talent our region has to offer. I believe that providing a variety of routes into employment is essential to enabling social mobility and creating a workforce fit for the future.

As one of the largest employers in the South West, creating opportunities for young people across our region not only makes great business sense – bringing new perspectives and talent into our organisation – but is also simply the right thing to do.

Here at Pennon and South West Water, we believe our people are our best asset. Delivering great services for our customers and communities starts with having the right people. As Chief People Officer my mantra is simple, if you trust your team, empower them and equip them with the skills they need they will deliver great results for customers.

As part of this, as an organisation, we are really focussed on bringing in future capability and attracting talent. If we get it right, we can make a massive difference both to people who work for us and their families, as well as the wider community.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has showcased the importance of sustainable employment for local communities, particularly in the South West which had one of the highest furlough rates in the country. Businesses, such as ourselves, need to make sure we are doing all we can to make a bigger and better contribution to the region we serve.

We committed early on in the pandemic not to furlough any of our employees and were keen to support members of the community who had lost jobs or were struggling to find employment. That’s why we became one of the first organisations to sign up to the Government’s kickstart scheme. Through the scheme, we are providing development opportunities for young adults who have struggled to find employment elsewhere.

In December, we were delighted to reach a significant milestone by welcoming our 50th kickstarter. And, of the 30 kickstarters who have finished their placements, 60% have secured apprenticeships or other permanent roles with us. We will continue to offer further placements in the coming months. We want our kickstarters to feel like this is not just a six-month placement and where we can, will provide opportunities to become an apprentice or pursue a permanent role. Having spent time with our new recruits, I can honestly say they are some of the brightest and most engaged people I have met and would encourage other business to consider offering opportunities through this scheme.

Our apprenticeships programme is also proving successful. More than 180 new apprentices have started across a range of roles, out in the field with technicians through to Head Office roles such as Human Resources. This is ahead of our planned milestone of 100 by December 2021 and we’re on track to reach our target of 500 by 2025.

Customer expectations have never been greater and the feedback from our first Customer AGM, held in November, revealed that our customers were very interested in our apprenticeships and our kickstarters.

These programmes are also bringing new people into the business who will really help to shape South West Water and propel our business forward.

Further to this, we’re passionate about ensuring we have a diverse representation in our workforce. I believe the only way to effectively serve our customers is to reflect the diversity right across the communities we serve but as a business we recognise there is more we can do.

Applications for our Summer 2022 placements in support of the first #10000 Black Interns programme have attracted strong interest. We received 95 applications for our 6 advertised placements. Based on the level of interest in these placements, we are looking to treble the number of placements to 16-20.

We continue to be a signatory of the Social Mobility Pledge, the cross-party campaign to improve social mobility in the UK established by the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP. This pledge reflects our social commitments through our partnerships with local schools, our open-door approach to visitors and our provision of work experience opportunities.

As part of our this, we have been working with local schools and colleges to encourage young people to consider a career path in STEM subjects.

We want to remove the barriers that people face to finding secure long-term employment, while ensuring we offer equal opportunities to those with different backgrounds, upbringing and education.

National Apprenticeships Week is a great moment to review our approach to training and employment to ensure we have a skilled workforce and future capability to help the South West reach its full potential as a great place to live, work and do business.

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