Darren Hankey, Principal of Hartlepool College of Further Education Discusses Apprenticeships

Date Added 30/08/2016

As a Group, we offer a range of apprenticeships, and apprentices now make up an impressive 10% of our workforce. Altec work closely with Hartlepool College of Further Education, with our apprentices completing the academic element of their training here.

Hannah Steel, our Marketing Administrator spoke to Darren Hankey, Principal of Hartlepool College about what an apprenticeship can offer and the issues facing apprentices today:

1. How long have you worked for Hartlepool College?

This is my sixteenth year at the college, I started in 2001 as a middle manager before joining the senior team in 2009. I became Principal in 2013.

2. What do you enjoy about working for the College?

Within my job I get to work with a range of different people. I enjoy meeting wonderful young people, who have high aspirations for the future and then I also get to work with organisations like Altec who are committed to working with these students. I also work with mature students who are looking to progress their education, which is really rewarding to see. As you can imagine, no two days are the same!

3. Have the recent initiatives to encourage more girls into engineering seen an increase in the number of female students applying to study the subject?

Yes, but more still needs to be done. At Hartlepool College we support the Women in Engineering initiative in any way we can, for example this year we hosted a day of activities dedicated to encourage girls into engineering. We have some fantastic female engineering students currently studying at our college, and recently several have been the college’s Engineering Student of the Year and the College’s overall Student of the Year - Altec’s Eilish Millar recently gained recognition. With girls dominating the awards over the past few years, they act as role models for the younger students.

4. How long have you been partnered with Altec Engineering?

We started working with Altec in 2010.

5. What are the benefits of this partnership?

The partnership benefits the students, as they gain quality work experience. Research suggests that if you have exposure to the workplace before the age of 24, you are more productive throughout your working life. For our students, they are not only gaining theoretical knowledge but by working at companies like Altec they are gaining valuable life experience.

The partnership also benefits Altec, as they gain the skills they need to progress as a business, they can implement a succession planning strategy and ensure they develop with the times.

For the college, this means we receive support and funding from the government, and we can enhance the quality of the qualifications we offer, which is the core of our business.

6. What is a typical day for an Altec Engineering apprentice at college?

We aim to provide an apprenticeship programme which meets the company’s needs.  Altec apprentices work 9-5 five days a week and this is where they begin to develop their essential skills for the workplace such as time keeping and organisation. Their average day consists of working in one of our workshops or labs learning their specific trade, and then they study for one day in the classroom. Once they begin working in the organisation, they return for one day a week to continue learning the theory behind engineering. The course lasts for three years in total.

7. What qualifications can the Altec Engineering apprentices work towards?

All of our apprentices’ work towards their NVQ Level 3, and can progress on to do their HNC and then move on to working towards their engineering degree.

8. What advice would you give to a student who is unsure if an apprenticeship is right for them?

Because we work with organisations like Altec, doing an apprenticeship with us more times than not leads to a good job. My background is in economics, so looking at the job market I can understand how difficult it can be to find not just a job, but a good job. Research has found that students who choose an apprenticeship mostly do go on to have a full working life, which in uncertain times is a reassurance. Another advantage of an apprenticeship is the wage you earn, and you still have the option to progress on to a degree without any of the student debt university students face. Apprenticeships are also very accommodating for different ways of learning.

9. What is your opinion on the Apprenticeship Levy proposed to start in 2017?

I can see where the government is coming from - employers do need to help develop their own staff and to pay for this. However, for businesses such as Altec who already invest in their staff, the levy could be seen as an extra cost. I am apprehensive about the finer details, and have concerns about how the system will work. As with any change, you have to think of the unintended consequences which in this case could potentially displace investment in staff and training that would already have taken place.  That said, at Hartlepool College of FE, we will work hard to ensure the new regime works for the companies we work with, such as Altec Engineering.

10. Do you feel there is still a need for more businesses to offer apprenticeships? If so, what would you say to a business that is considering hiring an apprentice?

Yes! Statistics show that currently only 15% of UK businesses take on apprentices, ideally I’d like to see this figure in the 80’s. I know the economy in the North East is made up of small to medium sized businesses, and the good thing about the levy is that many of these businesses will not have to pay because of their annual revenue.
My advice would be to seriously consider taking on an apprentice, and if it seems daunting to get in touch with us. At Hartlepool College we can offer advice and guidance and join the dots for any employer considering an apprentice.

If funding is an issue there are options out there, I know in our region the Tees Valley Combined Authority can provide financial support for businesses. I would say to any organisation considering an apprentice that they don’t have to do it alone, there is lots of support out there to help them.