Apprentice centre dream killed by agency confusion

Richard Bridgman with apprentices
Richard Bridgman with apprentices
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A project to set up an engineering apprenticeship school has been strangled by red tape.

Richard Bridgman, who owns the engineering company Warren Services, wanted to create a training centre equipped with the same state of the art equipment as his Fison Way, Thetford, factory. He announced this week that his dream was at an end.

“There are so many different agencies — probably about 10 — we’ve been involved with because of the age groups we’re working with that it’s just a minefield,“ he said. “They don’t seem to pull together. You can’t work on ifs and buts.

“I could just see it carrying on and not getting off the ground.”

Having invested his own time and money — said to be £50,000 — in the centre he said he feared it could be a drain on Warren Services.

He said the centre was a model that had been recommended by National Apprenticeship Services as something that could have been used around the country.

Mr Bridgman has discussed it with skills minister Matthew Hancock, who he shares a platform with at a New Anglia LEP conference next week, but feels that while Government backs apprenticeships it is not giving smaller employers enough support.

“They’re going for trail blazers but it’s all aimed at the big boys, BAe, Rolls-Royce, people like that. In Norfolk and Suffolk its mostly small businesses and they’re not engaging with them.

“I was trying to engage with 20 companies in Thetford who had not taken on apprentices in years. If you’ve got a company taking on one apprentice, they’re lost in the systems.”

He stressed he is still very much behind advanced apprenticeships. He added: “We’re committed ro carrying on having five per cent of the workforce as apprentices, but they will have to go to the colleges.

“But the colleges need to lift their game by making it more relevant to the businesses they serve. Apprentices come into the workplace using this up to date equipment then go into the colleges where they haven’t got this equipment.”