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Opportunity Knocks.

Social trends come and go and it seemed for a while that apprenticeships had sunk with the loss of the shipyards.

Employers wanted graduates with the trained brainpower to move them onwards and upwards.

Everyone believed that the latest technology was going to take over a lot of the dirty fingernail work.

Time-served craftsmen were stripped of much of the respect their quality of work had earned them.

And wee boys and girls were pushed into more modern careers in the service industries when they left school

The big employers who had always trained the flow of apprentices who went on to staff the whole market could no longer afford to feed the system and, by the end of the eighties, the apprenticeship looked doomed.

As with most social trends though, the problems associated with progress are not apparent until afterwards, when quality standards and skills shortages became major issues.

And so the industrial wheel has turned full circle once again as we approach the millennium.

So called `Modern Apprenticeships' were introduced in England after the Budget in November 1993 and are now sweeping through Scotland.

The main differences from the traditional apprenticeship are that the crucial issue is competence - over being "time-served".

And Modern Apprentices will work towards gaining an industry-standard vocational qualification.

Funding is also available through the Enterprise network, shifting the emphasis on to business and industry as a whole.

The advantage to smaller firms of helping youngsters into a career is that they can grow their own skills base at the same time.

Millionaire Scot Gerard Eadie has been known as a man who knows a good idea when he sees it ever since he simultaneously sponsored Celtic and Rangers Football Clubs.

He built up the hugely successful CR Smith business, which claims to have installed double glazed windows in one in six houses throughout Scotland.

Yet he is himself the product of a `traditional' apprenticeship programme through his native Fife Council.

Eadie's firm has just launched a joinery apprenticeship programme which will take on up to 50 trainees by next year.

And the first apprentices are already in position and learning their trade.

Eadie says: "We believe that changes in the local economy - and in particular dockyard closures at Rosyth - mean that local time-served joiners will be increasingly difficult to source."

He also intends to hang on to them by offering a good package.

"We believe joiners are a transient breed," he added.

"To overcome this - and make them more loyal to CR Smith - we involve their families by offering good rates of pay, pension funds and private health care."

Can it be that the true value of what used to be seen as the flat cap brigade is finally being recognised in society?

It seems so as even Clyde shipyard Kvaerner Govan took on apprentices again last year.

But modern apprenticeships extend far beyond the traditional industries which offered them.

Banking, leisure, IT, customer services - almost any sector you care to name is capable of supporting a Modern Apprenticeship scheme.

Training and qualifications are tailored towards the needs of the particular industry, with apprentices being trained to craft, supervisory or technician level.

Even some football clubs have young hopefuls employed under the Modern Apprenticeship scheme.

Aye, things ain't what they used to be, right enough.

Going the extra mile

CR Smith joinery apprentices will initially be based in Cowdenbeath but the programme will be rolled out to bases in Glasgow and Aberdeen next year.

Some things have not changed. The working day starts at 7am, with apprentices working in teams with two qualified joiners.

Training will be a mixture of on-the-job and college-based on a programme developed to meet the needs of CR Smith.

Trainees work through the programme at their own pace, passing on to each new stage only once they have achieved the relevant competence and skills.

In theory, the apprenticeship could be completed in as little as two years but roughly four years would be the norm. During that time apprentices will have gained a lot of valuable experience working on projects with their teams.

But technical competence is not all. Customer service is a key part of the modern apprenticeship since the days of respectfully doffing the cap and lowering the eyes are thankfully behind us.

Gerard Eadie says: "Although the craft and theory side of the job are extremely important, the apprentices must have excellent personal and communication skills.

"Quite simply they must, therefore, be prepared to go that extra mile."

And of course if the motivation of a CR Smith apprentice flags, they can always look at their boss to see the value nowadays of a good apprenticeship.

A tough act to follow : The Standards

Youngsters who sign up as apprentice joiners with CR Smith will be expected to do more than work with wood.

In addition, they will be expected to work hard in order to fit in with the company's high customer service standards.

This is not only because the joiners work in private homes, but also because their customers are buying expensive products.

The new recruits will therefore be expected to learn to demonstrate the high standards of professionalism CR Smith portrays in its high- profile advertising.

They will be expected to:

Appear in a clean blue and white van when they turn up for appointments.

Wear clean overalls at all times.

Treat customers with respect.

Never panic customers.

Sort out customer's problems with discretion.

Communicate with customers and explain how products work.

Protect a customer's property with sufficient dust sheets.

Clean up properly afterwards.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Scottish Daily Record & Sunday
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 10, 1997
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