18 March 2016

As part of  National Apprenticeship Week, we set marketing apprentice James Bruce the challenge of testing out his interview skills by asking his fellow apprentices some tough questions. Today, James asked Centre Support Officer Joe Durcan the opportunities and challenges that face apprentices.

What apprenticeship did you complete, and what made you want to do an apprenticeship?

When I left school, I did a plumbing apprenticeship but I found that it wasn't for me. I'm a tall guy and realised that getting into small gaps wasn't my forte, so I looked for other opportunities and decided to start working here at ABC Awards. I started by doing a Level 2 Business Administration apprenticeship and have since also completed the Level 3.

What do you think are the benefits of doing an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships are a great thing to do because you can earn while you learn, and the money can be a big aspect of it compared to going to college, but it also makes you a lot more mature because you're in a working environment from such a young age.

What do you feel you have gained from your apprenticeship? 

I've gained my Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications as well as continuing professional development and various other little qualifications I've been able to complete. Also, the Brathay Challenge which we completed last year as a team of apprentices was great - we finished second nationally, which is good for my CV and another great accomplishment. I've also grown up a lot. I've been here for three years now and I'm sure people who knew me three years ago would say that I'm totally different to what I'm like now.

How have ABC Awards and emfec supported you with your apprenticeship and what opportunities have you been given?

The teams here have supported me immensely. I've been through some difficult times while I've been here and I've always had support from staff and colleagues around me to help me through some situations that weren't nice for me personally. It's a great company to work for. There have been various opportunities for me too, not least the Brathay Challenge which I mentioned before. We got together as a team of apprentices from emfec and Pera Training, creating team "Perfec". We completed a series of challenges and managed to win all of our events regionally, which meant we went to the Houses of Parliament for an awards ceremony and went on to become second nationally. I've also had the chance to go to Brighton with our Head of Business Development and have been to various events to see if I would like to go in to that sort of work.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship as a good stepping stone for young people leaving school?

Yes, I would. For part of the Brathay Challenge we had to go to schools and talk about apprenticeships, and I went back to my old school. We didn't really get told about apprenticeships at school as many students were encouraged to go on to sixth form college. When I went back, I spoke to a group of lads and it was just like I was at school - all the naughty ones grouped together - and actually one of them came up to me afterwards and said, "because of you, I got an apprenticeship", which was really quite fulfilling to hear.

Do you feel that completing an apprenticeship has broadened your horizon?

Three years of being in a workplace environment has broadened my horizons and opened lots of doors for me. When I first joined emfec I was a personal assistant, and since then I've moved into the ABC Awards office and been promoted from a Centre Support Assistant to a Centre Support Officer. My managers know that I want to go into business development, so they've saying it could be a possible goal for me to set myself and something to head for - I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities they've given me.

If you could change one thing about apprenticeships, what would it be and why?

The value of an apprenticeship. I believe they should make the qualifications more challenging and more engaging because with my apprenticeship, the actual qualifications felt too easy. I feel that people go to university instead of trying an apprenticeship and people my age are in their last year of university whereas I've been working since the day I finished school and feel like I'm in a better position than they are. Whether they leave university with or without a degree, they will all be thinking "what do I do now?", whereas I'm already in a great job with a bit of money behind me.

Do you think there is a certain stigma attached to doing an apprenticeship?

Yes, that's the way it is. I think some apprenticeships need to be of more value. The government are pushing for more apprenticeships, they want three million by 2020, which is a big goal to achieve - but are they going to make the standard of qualifications any better? Or are they just going to be throwing them out there to anyone? I like apprenticeships and I'll stand up in front of anyone and tell them that, but I do feel that an apprenticeship needs to have a lot more value to it.