‘Olympics of skills’ help­ing Bri­tain’s ap­pren­tices to es­cape the shad­ows

Vo­ca­tional train­ing is on the rise and no longer ‘for other peo­ple’s chil­dren’, writes

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - Need For Speed

The world’s best brickie is Bri­tish and he’s got the gold medal to prove it. Yet you’ve prob­a­bly never heard of Ash­ley Ter­ron, who saw off in­ter­na­tional chal­lengers in 2013 to claim the ti­tle of top brick­layer at the World­skills com­pe­ti­tion, the “Olympics” of vo­ca­tional train­ing.

“I knew I’d done well. Peo­ple were say­ing I’d smashed it but un­til my name came up as gold medal­list I wasn’t sure,” says Ter­ron. “When I saw I’d won I went wild.”

Ter­ron, then an ap­pren­tice, scored 89.35pc, mean­ing he was mil­lime­tres from per­fect across the three brick projects he built at the bi­en­nial event. It’s a score yet to be bet­tered.

His abil­i­ties were recog­nised while at col­lege and he was se­lected for men­tor­ing by World­skills UK, the body that cham­pi­ons ap­pren­tice­ships. That work paid off at the com­pe­ti­tion in Leipzig, Ger­many, and he was awarded the Bri­tish Em­pire Medal af­ter his vic­tory in the com­pe­ti­tion for peo­ple un­der 23. His suc­cess helped land him a job at one of Bri­tain’s big­gest con­struc­tion com­pa­nies on a pro­mo­tional fast track.

Com­peti­tors from other na­tions had their per­for­mances tele­vised in their home coun­tries, with win­ners be­ing awarded jobs for life and, in some cases, houses. “We got a pat on the back for rep­re­sent­ing Bri­tain,” says Ter­ron. “But at the end of the day, skills like this are the UK’S back­bone – noth­ing runs with­out them.”

The young War­ring­ton man’s ex­pe­ri­ence at the com­pe­ti­tion, which show­cases vo­ca­tional skills, re­flects the UK’S per­cep­tion of ap­pren­tice­ships.

“There’s a view by some par­ents that ap­pren­tice­ships are for other peo­ple’s chil­dren,” says Neil Bentley, chief ex­ec­u­tive of World­skills UK, which is funded by gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try. “We’re look­ing for the best of the best to com­pete at an in­ter­na­tional level and show there is a re­ward­ing al­ter­na­tive to a uni­ver­sity de­gree.”

Ap­pren­tice­ships are in­creas­ingly seen as at­trac­tive by school leavers, who are balk­ing at rack­ing up £30,000 of debt pur­su­ing a de­gree. The prospect of earn­ing while they learn is not lost on young peo­ple ei­ther, with a CEBR study cal­cu­lat­ing an en­gi­neer who went through an ap­pren­tice­ship would be £80,000 bet­ter off than aca­demic peers.

The Gov­ern­ment is also push­ing vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion as a way to plug skills gaps. Ear­lier this year it launched the ap­pren­tice­ship levy, which re­quires com­pa­nies with an an­nual wage bill of £3m or more to pay 0.5pc of their staff costs into a fund to pay for train­ing cour­ses, with the aim of cre­at­ing 3m ap­pren­tices by 2020.

But while the im­pe­tus is there to get more peo­ple into ap­pren­tice­ships, events such as the World­skills com­pe­ti­tions are needed to high­light the rel­e­vance of vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion. Ter­ron says a fam­ily con­nec­tion meant he wanted to be­come an ap­pren­tice brick­layer when he left school, de­spite get­ting strong GCSES.

“I was pulled to one side by a teacher and asked ‘What are you do­ing? You’re bet­ter than that’,” he re­calls. “I found it of­fen­sive – es­pe­cially as I knew by the age of 19 I could be earn­ing £50,000 if I was good at it.”

Ter­ron’s per­se­ver­ance paid off with the world ti­tle. Now World­skills UK is aim­ing to cre­ate more role mod­els like him. In the 2013 com­pe­ti­tion, Bri­tain was 10th in the medal ta­ble with two golds, a sil­ver and three bronzes, and two years later at São Paulo had moved up to sev­enth, ahead of Ger­many, de­spite its long-es­tab­lished ap­pren­tice­ship tra­di­tion.

For this year’s com­pe­ti­tion in Abu Dhabi in Oc­to­ber, World­skills UK is treat­ing it like the Olympic sport­ing cam­paign, look­ing for any in­cre­men­tal gain to eke out the best from the near 40-strong team, who will com­pete in about half of the dis­ci­plines. As well as men­tors to boost their abil­i­ties, along with nu­tri­tional and di­etary ad­vice, Bri­tish com­peti­tors have per­for­mance coaches such as Peter Bakare, the former UK Olympian, on their side.

“The par­al­lels be­tween sport and skills are huge,” says Bakare, who rep­re­sented Bri­tain in vol­ley­ball in the 2012 Olympics. “We’re try­ing to get them past men­tal bar­ri­ers, just like in sport. We’re set­ting goals and man­ag­ing their train­ing. They are will­ing to try, and try, and try but with­out fo­cus they might prac­tise the wrong things. And just like sport, only frac­tions sep­a­rate gold and sil­ver.”

Suc­cess at the in­ter­na­tional level also sends out a mes­sage to the world, ac­cord­ing to Bentley. “As we look to Brexit, show­ing Bri­tain has the abil­ity to grow its own tal­ent and pro­duce peo­ple with the skills needed for the econ­omy to suc­ceed is a pow­er­ful sig­nal.” He ad­mits that while not ev­ery­one who takes on an ap­pren­tice­ship can con­tend to be an in­ter­na­tional cham­pion, high­light­ing the suc­cess of those who do reach such a level is in­spi­ra­tional for oth­ers.

Be­ing cho­sen to rep­re­sent Team UK in Abu Dhabi has been a life-chang­ing event for Dan Mccabe, who will be com­pet­ing in the 3D video game de­sign cat­e­gory. “This has re­de­fined every­thing I per­ceived my­self to be,” says the 19-year-old from the Wir­ral. “It has rein­vented me into some­one I didn’t think I could be. At school I wanted to be a games de­vel­oper but ex­pected I would just get a nor­mal of­fice job.” How­ever, his abil­i­ties were recog­nised by World­skills UK and he won gold for Bri­tain in the Euro­pean heat in Swe­den where he cre­ated a car for the video game.

His win helped him land a job as a 3D artist with Code­mas­ters and he says he has no re­grets about pur­su­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship. “We’ve got a queue of peo­ple with mas­ters de­grees knock­ing on the door of our stu­dio try­ing to get a job, while I’m al­ready here do­ing the job and rep­re­sent­ing Bri­tain,” he says. “There’s no bet­ter way of show­ing what you can do than by be­com­ing an ap­pren­tice.”

‘Ahead of Brexit, show­ing Bri­tain has the abil­ity to grow its own tal­ent is a pow­er­ful sig­nal’

Brick­layer Ash­ley Ter­ron, 25, with his gold medal from the World­skills Leipzig 2013

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.