No More Bright Futures For These Apprentices

 

 

When it seems like everyone knows which university they’d like to attend, what course they’d like to complete and what they’d like to do for the rest of their life by the time they’re 14, apprenticeships and other vocational pathways are looking like a much more valuable continuation of learning for many young people.

And in the world of technology that we’re ever so quickly turning in to, more and more companies are offering apprenticeships in the digital sector. Last year, the Government increased the minimum wage for apprentices by 57p per hour. Obviously, the goal for the UK is to encourage more teenagers into apprenticeships. Which is of course a great idea. Right?

Perhaps not…

The development of the Northern Powerhouse, built around a developing digital revolution in Manchester, took a big hit in January when Bright Futures announced to the world that they were going out of business, leaving nearly 200 of our next generation of coders out of work and with incomplete qualifications.

I had a chat with Ben, one of the apprentices who was told he’d been made redundant on the 27th of January, after having only been there since September.

“The course was sold to us as a programming type course. So it would involve aspects of all types of programming; web design, software development, app design, app development. All different parts. We’d be using Java, HTML, CSS, Javascript, C, maybe C sharp, I can’t really remember.” Ben told me what his course was supposed to entail.

“We were told we’d be getting a lot of experience, so learning code and then doing a lot of commercial work using the code we had learned. That was meant to start at Christmas, after we’d learned enough of the basics in the first term.”

So what actually happened? I asked him for more.

“It didn’t start at Christmas. The units were rearranged so we weren’t doing commercial work, we’d have probably started that around March. We weren’t told why it was pushed back.”

I then asked him if he knew how much of a grant the company got from the government, and how much of that he was to receive.

“It was £20,000 per apprentice, and then over the course of the first year we were supposed to be given £6,000, and the rest was supposed to be used for equipment and to pay our trainers. Obviously, I didn’t get the £6000 because I wasn’t there for the whole year, and I don’t know what happened to the rest.”

£20,000 per apprentice? That’s a lot of money to suddenly go missing. I wondered how many apprentices they actually took on.

“There were about 180 apprentices in total throughout the company, but my group was made up of 21,” he said, “It was more of a college-esque environment than an apprenticeship.”

That’s even more money to mysteriously go missing. I then asked for a detailed account of what actually happened on the day the apprenticeship was terminated.

“It just seemed like a normal day; we were doing work, more of a filler unit rather than an important one, and then near to the end of the day someone came in and said everyone’s got to go downstairs. No one knew what was going on, so we all followed them.

“Then the boss came over, and said ‘we’re unable to pay you’ but they never said we were redundant. They said that technically we were still employed. They wouldn’t tell anyone until about a week later. They said to go home, look at your emails, see what’s going on.

That seemed very secretive to me. I asked him if it was just employees who had been told that.

“I don’t know about everyone in the company because we just weren’t told what was going on, but it wasn’t just apprentices. My trainer was there too, he’s got a kid, or maybe two, he’d just had a new boiler fitted, and he was told the same thing as us. It was upsetting to watch.”

Ben then said he did as he was told- to look at his emails and wait. He received a message not much later.

“We had a meeting on the Monday. It was a five-minute meeting and we were told nothing. It was a pointless meeting, she just said there were two companies willing to take some of us on, she never told us the name of the companies, just said there were two companies. She kept going on about how we were still technically employed, and I was sat there thinking ‘we’re not, you can’t pay us, how can you keep us!?’ The day after that meeting we finally received confirmation of what we had all been thinking, we were told we were being made redundant.”

I asked if they were given any other support aside from that. He replied, “Not from her, but there was another woman who told us about job fair days, and companies that had spoken out and told us to talk to them. Manchester Digital were mentioned a couple of times as a good source if we needed help.”

He told me what he had planned to use his apprenticeship for;

“To learn how to code. People go to university and get a computer science degree, but companies can overlook them because they don’t actually get much experience from that. We were told that an apprenticeship would help you to find jobs in agencies because you’d have experience, but I got none. I was hoping to get skills, move onto a level 4, and then get a job in a company that does digital work.”

Ben then said that despite all this, he still believes he does have a Bright Future.

“The digital community in Manchester has really clubbed together to help us all out. I know some of the larger companies like UK Fast have managed to take on about 30 of us and I’ve been lucky enough to find help from a company in town called Indiespring. Their team only consists of about 10-12 people but they have offered to help me learn how to program and get experience hands on by working alongside their developers, which is great, and if needs be to help me get a job in a different company after I’ve got that experience.”