There has never been a better time to consider an apprenticeship

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Dave Crossland, head of organisation development at Jersey Electricity, spoke to Emily Moore

IT is no wonder that many teenagers feel baffled by the range of career choices available. Or that many adults, after spending a number of years following one path, later switch to a completely different field.

From talent managers to heads of cyber security and data protection specialists, recruitment adverts feature a wide array of job titles, many of which – largely unheard of a few years ago – leave prospective applicants wondering exactly what the role entails.

‘Some people have very clear vocational career paths in mind from an eayrly age and know exactly how they are going to achieve their goals but many people don’t have a clue what they want to do,’ said Dave Crossland, head of organisation development at Jersey Electricity. ‘I know when I left school, I had never considered a career in HR, let alone as a Head of Organisation Development, a role that probably didn’t even exist then.’

And, as the ever-evolving demands of the workplace continue to create new roles, Mr Crossland says that there has never been a better time to consider an apprenticeship.

‘We have a long and successful history of apprenticeships at JE, particularly in our Energy Division,’ he continued. ‘Indeed, many of our JEBS and Energy Division team members, including some who now have master’s degrees in engineering, started as apprentices. We want to build on the success of that programme by launching apprenticeships in other areas of the business such as HR, retail and digital.’

It is an ambition driven not only by a need to attract talent and skills but also to ‘compete’ with the increasing range of training programmes now offered by other industries and to demonstrate the breadth of roles within JE.

‘We have a range of career opportunities, from plumbing and engineering to accountancy and marketing, which is probably unrivalled in the Island,’ said Mr Crossland, ‘and this puts us in the exciting position of being able to attract people with a diverse range of talents and backgrounds. Indeed, diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of JE and we are working hard to chip away at some of the stereotypes, which have historically dominated certain areas of the business, to create a varied workforce.’

Supporting this drive to boost diversity is JE’s apprenticeship programme, about which the company is engaging with careers teachers and education providers to promote and deliver.

‘One of the key benefits of an apprenticeship from the trainee’s perspective is that you are learning as you earn. Equally, the arrangement benefits the company as we are able to provide job-specific training to ensure that we have the skills we need within the business. Of course, to achieve that, we need to understand what those skills are and how to build the best training programme in conjunction with a range of education partners.’

In the Energy Division, a key partner for JE is the UK-based Western Power Distribution.

‘We have developed a scheme in which our apprentices attend training in the UK with Western Power’s training division. This not only gives them the opportunity to experience a larger network than Jersey’s, equipping them with very valuable insights, but also enables them to meet apprentices from other organisations, contacts which can be very beneficial for them. Meanwhile, our JEBS apprentices, many of whom come to us through the Trackers scheme, undertake electrical or plumbing courses at Highlands College.’

And while tradition has seen many of the engineering and JEBS apprenticeships taken up by male school leavers, Mr Crossland is quick to emphasise that such positions are open to anyone.

‘As long as people are engaged with the role and enthusiastic about the subject, we welcome applications from people of any age, gender, ethnicity or background,’ he said, ‘and I am delighted that we have started breaking through some of the stereotypes recently, with a female plumbing apprentice having recently joined JEBS and an application from a female engineering student who is interested in working with renewable energy. We are also delighted to be welcoming a senior female engineer to our team next month. She will be joining us from Lebanon.’

As well as attracting talent by ‘casting our net out further’, the company is also committed to internal career progression and movement.

‘One of the advantages of working for JE is the wide range of business areas. During lockdown, staff gained experience of working across several departments and the insights they gained from this sparked considerable interest in the possibilities available. As vacancies have arisen over the past few months, we have seen a number of internal candidates apply as they seek additional responsibility or the chance to explore a different area.’

This internal movement, together with a growing business, means that, as well as apprentice positions, the company is seeking applicants for a variety of roles.

‘We are about to launch a recruitment campaign for our Energy Division, with vacancies available at every level from apprentices to experienced engineers and we are also looking for project managers as well as people to fulfil digital roles,’ said Mr Crossland.

‘We know that there will be new opportunities as the digital transformation continues to gather pace. This is clear not just from our own experiences but from our partnership with the Energy Utility Skills Council in the UK which gives us a valuable insight into emerging needs and skills gaps.

‘When we talk about digital now, we are no longer talking about IT literacy – we have progressed beyond that – but are looking more at business analysis and how the vast amounts of data we accumulate can be used to help us understand how the Island is consuming electricity and where we might need to become more efficient.

‘This links with our customer focus, as this depth of knowledge, combined with our very robust smart network, will help us to talk to consumers about their energy use and where they can make savings.’

Recognising the changes brought by rapid advancements in technology, Mr Crossland is also conscious that these developments will shape future job roles.

‘As technology advances, so does the equipment we use. While we don’t know what the tools of the future will be, what we do know is that this pace of change means that we need people with adaptable mindsets and ideas about how new technology can be used. This brings us to a very interesting environment in which the traditional skills – which will always be required when it comes to hands-on work on the network – will be complemented by innovative thinking to enhance our methods and overall service.’

With this in mind, the company’s apprenticeship programmes are likely to change.

‘Whereas these have previously concentrated primarily on the technical aspects of the roles, this will need to be broadened to take the use of technology into account. And this takes us back to working with education providers and students, as we are very conscious that the lessons and training offered at the moment are for jobs that, in many cases, do not yet exist,’ he said.

‘When you don’t know what the job titles of the future will be, how do you know what the training needs are? What we do know is that many so-called “soft skills”, such as management, leadership and personal values, will always be needed. I believe that as long as the basic academic foundations are in place, and that people have key leadership skills, they will find their areas of expertise.

‘At JE, we need to offer them the opportunities to find that expertise and area of interest. With the diversity of careers we can offer, we are hugely fortunate in that as long as someone has great interpersonal skills and behaviours which are aligned with our values, we can find a position that will motivate them and help them to carve their own career path whether that’s in finance, HR, retail or engineering.’

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