National Apprenticeship Week begins, IOEx builds programme to support traders

Mon 5 Feb 2024
Posted by: Danielle Keen
IOE News

Today (5 February) marks the beginning of National Apprenticeship Week, which aims to highlight the “positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy”.

Across the UK apprenticeships fairs are taking place to encourage people to join the 750,000+ learners already enrolled on apprenticeship programmes.

IOEx Ltd, the apprenticeship delivery arm of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT), has already begun enrolling apprentices on its Level 3 International Freight Forwarding programme this year.

Apprenticeship success manager, Steve Horrell, has ambitious plans to expand the suite of programmes on offer. IOE&IT Daily Update spoke to him about the value of apprenticeships to international trade and employers.

Trade potential

Throughout IOE&IT, there’s excitement about how apprenticeships can support industry roles, helping those in international trade develop world-class skills.

Horrell wants to see IOEx become the “one-stop-shop” for freight forwarding, supporting learners across the industry, with the potential to develop staff across all across a company’s organisation, whether in management, administration roles or frontline warehousing roles.

Kevin Shakespeare, IOE&IT’s director of strategic projects and international development, agreed the route works well for traders, highlighting that:

“The last few years have shown the importance of UK businesses having well-trained staff to understand export and import procedures, supply chain management and logistics and customs processes. 

“Apprenticeships are a great way of training staff on the most appropriate processes in order that businesses can trade successfully and compliantly. This applies for all types of businesses in the ecosystem of trade from freight forwarders, hauliers, exporting and importing businesses right through to technology driven businesses providing digital trade solutions.

“Apprenticeships can be a great route to ensuring successful trade, successful logistics and successful business practices.”        

Lifelong learning

Horrell adds that apprenticeships targeted at developing leaderships skills – operational or departmental management – can build talent within the wider industry and support workers throughout their careers by encouraging adult staff to return to education and continue upskilling.

“Once they overcome the hurdle of taking their first apprenticeship, a lot of learners get a thirst to develop further – there’s almost a disappointment when they come off the programme and they’re eager to begin the next one.”

This is demonstrated by the number of adult learners returning to education through an apprenticeship. Government statistics show the proportion of starts by apprentices over the age of 25 has been increasing steadily, peaking in the 2020-21 academic year, when they accounted for more than 50% of new starters.

However, Horrell notes the validity of the path for young learners too, especially “younger people who were let down when they were in formal education”.

Blending on- and off-the-job training with education is an ideal way to build skills and knowledge, with benefits to both the apprentice and the employer.

Key elements for success

Horrell attributes much of his confidence in the future of IOEx’s apprenticeship programme to the input of IOE&IT’s academy of trade and customs specialists, who use their expertise to train customs professionals and support businesses.

In terms of building IOEx’s capacity to support more apprentices to achieve world-class qualification and skills, Horrell says the academy brings key elements, the first being the “huge passion for education”.

“Whether it’s delivering training or writing curriculum, there’s a massive passion for education and you can’t educate without passions – they go hand-in-hand.”

The second is the level of expertise shown by those in the academy, which ensures the quality of the materials developed, as Horrell adds: “If they can help to shape government legislation, they can certainly be helping us to shape our curriculum”.

“They’ve also got a better understanding of what the learner would want on these specific routes.”

Workplace skills

In addition to industry expertise, Horrell highlights the professionalism displayed by those who complete apprenticeships.

“You hear buzz words all the time in most businesses about collaborative working… It’s easy to learn the word but not necessarily easy to demonstrate.

“Apprentices learn the importance of how they conduct themselves; how they speak, how they engage with the members of their team, the way they deliver emails. Those soft skills are vital.”

The value of these skills to employers is backed by Chartered Management Institute (CMI) research, which found that 80% of employers found higher education graduates to be lacking in soft skills, with team working (58%) and communication skills (52%) among the most highly sought after.

“Once they've learned those skills, they benefit from it massively and obviously the feedback from the employers is always the same that a member of staff has shown potential is now realising that potential.

“It's fantastic to see the confidence it builds in somebody – a learner who was nervous to speak in front of two or three people going onto conduct a professional discussion with clients.”

Employer benefit

From the employer’s perspective, Horrell describes apprenticeships as a time-effective way “to unleash the talent” in staff.

“It's not always easy to spend time and focus on the individual needs that the employee may have in order to fulfil that potential.”

Apprenticeships facilitate this by cultivating workers’ knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs), ensuring any sector-specific knowledge is balanced by general workplace skills.

The employer gets someone who is certified as “industry-competent” in terms of the qualification, but also “a much better-rounded member of staff, somebody who integrates well into a team and understands the business aims”.

A report by St Martin’s Group – a membership organisation dedicated to enhancing skills-development and employment opportunities – found that “gaining knowledge and skills relevant to business needs” was the leading indicator of apprenticeship success reported by employers surveyed.

Having supported many apprentices throughout his career, Horrell says one of the most rewarding things is to watch them become more confident in their role – but notes that this translates into wider benefits for the team:

“When new staff join an organisation, there is a more professional working environment. They will be working alongside highly skilled, motivated staff that will advocate the employer invests in staff development. Factors such as this are vital to staff retention.”