The importance of nurturing and growing homegrown talent

Written by Tracy Israel, Director of Talent & Development, The Celtic Collection & ICC Wales

This week (5 – 12th February) marks National Apprenticeship Week, a campaign backed by the UK’s Department for Education which highlights the positive impact that apprenticeships make to individuals, businesses and the wider economy. This year’s theme is ‘Skills For Life,’ but the impact of apprenticeships reaches far beyond empowering individuals – investing in the next generation is a crucial pathway to securing the growth and prosperity of Wales.

The power of a skilled workforce

The structured and hands-on approach that apprenticeships allow enables individuals to acquire practical skills across more than 1,500 job roles in Wales. From advanced materials and manufacturing, digital technologies, financial and legal services, creative industries, as well as tourism, hospitality and leisure, apprenticeships help nurture a capable and adaptable Welsh workforce, which is the bedrock of long-term economic growth. Improving skills is at the heart of the Welsh Government’s economic strategy, and the Economic Mission (November 2023) highlights that the growth of Wales’ key sectors lies in prioritising young people.

Here at The Celtic Collection and ICC Wales, apprenticeships have always played a vital role in helping us attract, train and retain a highly skilled workforce. We currently have 142 team members undertaking apprenticeships and these reach across all areas of the business. Hospitality services and culinary skills are the more obvious ones for a business like ours, but we also have many more apprenticeships such as business administration, sports turf management, digital marketing, accounting, management and leadership.

Findings from the Federation of Small Business report, A Skills-Led Economy for Wales, also reveal that an expert workforce is crucial to mending gaps and developing specialisms to grow business. This is a clear sign that SME’s need to leverage apprenticeship schemes within the nation’s sectors – not only to ensure demand is met, but to support the ambition of local businesses as well as the goals and aspirations of their employees. The fact that more than 20,000 individuals began apprenticeships in Wales in the 2022/2023 academic year is a strong indicator that businesses see the value of investing in future generations.

Trade: a global stage for Welsh expertise

The ripple effect is undeniable – a more skilled workforce paves the way for advancements in technology and a culture that fosters innovation. These advancements contribute to the health of the Welsh economy – and in turn the UK – by attracting investment, allowing our key sectors to become more competitive, and strengthening our position on the global market. Our small but steadfast nation is a global leader in exporting machinery and transport equipment and mineral fuels, with our 2023 exports valued at £19.9million. It’s vital that we continue nurturing a growing workforce who can not only meet demand, but contribute to advancements across various sectors, showcasing Welsh expertise on the global stage.

Conserving culture

While apprenticeships help unlock trade opportunities, they can also help preserve our rich cultural heritage by serving as a bridge between generations, allowing the transfer of traditional skills and knowledge that define our cultural identity. Two of Wales’ most promising industries, the creative industries and tourism sectors, are filled with apprenticeship opportunities across a variety of organisations such as the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, the Museums Association and Arts Council Wales. By nurturing homegrown talent through apprenticeships, we contribute not only to the preservation of Welsh culture but also to its evolution. Presenting future generations with the opportunities and expertise to progress Wales into the digital era is paramount for our nation’s survival in the modern world.

A better Wales for all

The Celtic Collection’s adoption of the ‘70:20:10’ framework in apprenticeships means the majority of time (70 per cent) is spent becoming acclimatised to the industry. This realistic approach exposes apprentices to the demands of today’s industry, but more importantly, provides them with an outlook and voice so that they can actively contribute and make an impact within a setting that is ultimately their own to inherit. Our philosophy has always been to ‘grow our own’ talent and apprenticeships help define clear, accessible career pathways for our people and offer opportunities for accelerated career development.

Providing diverse individuals with access to training and employment opportunities contributes to a more equitable distribution of skills and resources. This not only promotes social and economic inclusivity to all four corners of the country, creating a fairer and more prosperous Wales for its residents, but enhances the overall competitiveness and attractiveness of our nation’s products and services on the global stage.

The Economic Mission outlines the Welsh Government’s dedication to developing vibrant towns and cities where homes and fair work are attainable, and wealth is generated and retained locally. By prioritising apprenticeships, we as a nation are enabling tomorrow’s generation to access the right employment or education opportunities at the right time, contributing to the reduction of unemployment rates and addressing skills gaps, which in turn fuels economic growth. Wales is well-known for its workforce expertise and for building strong links between higher education and industry, and apprenticeships fuel collaborations between government, businesses and learning institutions. Nurturing homegrown talent reaches far beyond our local workshops, hotels and factories – it can help inform institutions to ensure that vital skills earn their place across the national curriculum and influence legislation.

What next?

The Welsh Government has now abandoned its manifesto to create 125,000 all-age apprenticeships by 2026 which is “a huge gamble for Wales’ economy and communities”, in the words of David Hagendyk, Chief Executive of Colegau Cymru.

Numerous umbrella bodies representing the Welsh apprenticeship sector have also raised concerns that the recently announced budget cut to apprenticeships of 24.5% in 2024/2025 will disproportionately impact young people (16-24). Last month, The Celtic Collection joined 65 employers in signing an open letter to Welsh Government calling for the funding to be protected to ensure the economic prosperity of Wales. The projected loss of 10,000 apprenticeships, which is due to a gap in European funding, will be detrimental to Wales’ key health, social, and public sectors, and will undoubtedly impact the construction and engineering sectors which are vital for future economic growth.

With the upcoming Celtic Freeport development which covers Milford Haven and Port Talbot, and the Anglesey Freeport in North Wales, it’s crucial to our nation’s economic and social success that the Welsh Government prioritises the growth of a skilled workforce and continues to negotiate with the apprenticeship network in Wales to maximise delivery within the available budget.

Apprenticeships are fundamental to economic prosperity, playing a pivotal role in constructing a more robust, equitable, and just Wales. The Apprenticeship Awards Cymru 2024, which will be held at ICC Wales on 22nd March, is the perfect opportunity to celebrate our homegrown talent who are committed to enhancing our nation’s productivity, fostering prosperity within our economy, and ultimately cultivating more resilient communities.