RAF Apprentices: a bright future ahead

28 March 2018 (Last Updated March 28th, 2018 16:22)

A recent award win has highlighted the Royal Air Force's increased focus on science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) training, which has formed a vital part of its apprenticeship programme.

RAF Apprentices: a bright future ahead
An RAF Corporal Engineer preparing an aircraft for the next training sortie with a formal see off.

In January, at an impressive award ceremony at The Grosvenor hotel in London, it was revealed that the Royal Air Force was The Open University sponsored Macro Employer of the Year 2017 at the National Apprenticeship Awards

The award was a nice way to kick off the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) centenary year celebrations, which are expected to include a number of events aimed both at raising the service’s profile and also enthusing a new generation about becoming a part of the RAF team. The RAF, in particular, is aware that it needs to increase the awareness of science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) training in order to recruit the kind of technically adept individuals the service needs.

The apprenticeship award will be yet another way to highlight the RAF’s STEM activities on the various roadshows around the country planned for its centenary celebrations.

The National Apprenticeship Awards (NAA), now in their fourteenth year, is run by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS). Sue Husband, Director of the NAS stated that, “The National Apprenticeship Awards showcase the breadth of apprenticeships on offer in a range of dynamic industries across the country. Apprenticeships are for everyone and I thank every employer and apprentice celebrated for their passion for, and commitment to, apprenticeships.

“This year’s winners are all shining examples of how apprenticeships develop outstanding talent whilst enhancing the incredible work of employers. I am certain all of our winners have a bright future thanks to the enriching benefits that apprenticeships bring.”

Also attending the NAA was Skills and Apprenticeships Minister Anne Milton who said: “The National Apprenticeship Awards ceremony is a great opportunity to celebrate the work so many individuals and employers have done to champion apprenticeships.

“I want to congratulate everyone that was a part of these awards for their contribution to apprenticeships in England. They are all fantastic advocates of hard work and ambition, and they highlight how apprenticeships are a great route into skilled employment for people of all ages and backgrounds.”

Recognising excellence: Nation-leading technical apprenticeships

According to the NAS the award for the Macro Employer is to “recognise excellence in two areas: businesses that grow their own talent with apprentices and apprentices who have made a significant contribution to their workplaces.”

Although most wouldn’t think of the RAF normally as a “business”, its use and promotion of apprentices has much that is akin to how the most forward-thinking of companies are now approaching apprenticeships.

“RAF apprenticeships can lead to a broad and diverse range of careers.”

According to the RAF, an apprenticeship with the organisation offers “the chance to gain a UK-recognised trade qualification as part of a challenging and unique career”. In addition to gaining that civilian recognised professional qualification, the RAF also guarantees a job in the chosen field once the apprenticeship is completed.

The range and variety of apprenticeships that the RAF offers, some 24 in all, can lead to a broad and diverse range of careers including aviation operations, engineering, hospitality and catering, and IT. Like other apprenticeship schemes RAF apprentices are also paid while they learn, but unlike some civilian apprenticeships the payment comes close to a full-time salary. So the RAF argues that an apprenticeship with the RAF offers the “very best training and as well as getting paid to learn, you’ll get the chance to travel the world, play sport and perform an important role in the RAF.”

The NAS judges agreed with much of what the RAF has to say itself. In a statement announcing the award, they explained, “The RAF has led the nation in delivery of technical apprenticeships since 1920 and now provides an extensive range of cross-sector apprenticeships to meet the strategic needs of both the service and the UK.

“Over the past 5 years, it has trained over 8,500 apprentices and Ofsted has graded the RAF Apprenticeship provision ‘Outstanding’ in all areas.”

Fast-tracked talent: Supporting the training and learning pipeline

RAF apprenticeships require dedication and staying power. To get the apprenticeship obviously requires joining the RAF and the need to go through the full application process, just as anyone else signing up to join the service. This also included phase 1 RAF training, then getting Level 2, 3 and 4 apprenticeship as part of RAF phase 2 (trade) training. In all, the process can last between one and three years.

In receiving the award, Squadron Leader Gary Walling, officer commanding apprenticeship management team, said, “The Royal Air Force is proud to have achieved such recognition in its centenary year. The service needs a highly skilled, motivated, confident workforce which requires minimal on-the-job supervision.

“We passionately believe that delivering ‘world class’ apprenticeships to our new entrants is key to success when attracting high calibre people at the start of an extensive scheme of thorough career, personal, and professional development, including a growing access to Higher Apprenticeships.”

“The service needs a highly skilled, motivated, confident workforce which requires minimal on-the-job supervision.”

Reinforcing Squadron Leader Walling’s comments, the representative of award sponsor The Open University, David Willett, Director Business Development Unit continued, “the Apprenticeship Awards isn’t just about the apprentices, it’s also recognition of the support behind apprenticeships; the line managers, mentors, delivery managers, tutors, family and friends and most importantly the employers. The Awards is a great way to celebrate the fantastic apprenticeship successes that are happening all over the UK.

“There were some very impressive entries for this award, and the scale of their commitment to apprenticeships huge, with the three finalists having just under 7,500 apprentices between them, but The Royal Air Force is a deserved winner due to how the team are innovating and providing fantastic support to their apprentices, which shows in the impact their programmes are having.”

The award and the naming of the RAF in the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer list compiled annually by the NAS tops off several years of accolades for the RAF’s apprenticeship scheme. These include Ofsted grading the RAF Apprenticeships as ‘Outstanding’ in a report of 21 Jan 2015, the award of a Silver in Large Employer (5000+) category at the Apprenticeships4England Awards in 25 Feb 2016, the receipt of ‘Highly Commended’ in Apprentice Macro Employer category at the SW Region of the NAS held in Taunton 19 Oct 2016, and winning Macro Employer category at the SW Region of the National Apprenticeship Awards 3 Oct 2017.

Taken together, these awards reflect the important part the RAF plays in supporting young people into the workplace and nurturing talent as they begin their careers. Apprenticeships are a vital aspect of the training and learning pipeline in the UK, and the support of an organisation such as the RAF is key to their continued existence.