Gillingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry | 3 Gillingham SkillFest
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3 Gillingham SkillFest

31 Oct 3 Gillingham SkillFest

Two stars were born.

Rhys McGrath and Meril George stole the show at the recent Skillsfest evening hosted by Gillingham Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The event was heralded a success with the two youngsters addressing potential future apprentices.

The evening went a long way to allay fears and myths about the apprentice programme with a variety of speakers, businesses looking for apprentices or learning about apprenticeships and a host of youngsters hoping to learn more.

Sharon Cullingford  Vice Chair of Chamber welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers.

Julia Markhus from Skills and Learning explained how the apprenticeship landscape was changing with businesses such as the NHS and police now recruiting apprentices with potential career paths all the way to Chief Constable. Particularly relevant with the levy paid by the bigger firms. She talked of training providers and how learning takes place as much ‘on the job’ as at college.

Rhys and Meril both only 20, then took to the stage and wowed the audience with their passion, openness and confidence.   Both had completed A ‘levels at Gillingham school before taking apprentice positions at Farnfields Solicitors which they have now completed.  Rhys is currently undergoing further studies to become a Chartered Legal Executive and is based in the conveyancing department where he wishes to qualify and focus on this area of law. While Meril is progressing towards a legal secretarial career in family law.

Susan Sullivan from Dorset Councils Partnership took the stage and explained the Governments grant scheme and how Dorset also have their own start up business grant that could help a new business release funding to allow for an apprentice.  She warned particular about shopping around for the right training provider and that as a business contract, employers should have expectations.   There is a register for providers available.

In response to a question sent in previously from teenagers, it was suggested they look at the bigger picture rather than the focusing on low pay. Initially apprentices may not be paid much but, they are paid rather than incurring debt to learn or train as they would if they had gone to university. Employers these days are often more inclined to look at work experience when taking on youngsters and Susan was able to confirm, many employers pay more than the minimum apprentice wage.

Olivia Borne from Young Enterprise introduced a slide show to help youngsters evidence employability skills.   She explained how some employers take on bright apprentices to put through university, competition for these places is very competitive and companies look for that added extra.  This was underlined by the fact that both Rhys and Meril had passed their A’levels prior to taking their apprenticeships.  Young Enterprise have developed an app to help youngsters with their evidencing.  She advised them to look for the opportunities, evidence them and build an action plan.

The final speaker was Richard Cumming from Orchard Park who gave the perspective from an employer’s point of view and the rewards of having young blood and fresh ideas coming into the workplace.   He has a diverse business covering different disciplines and offers apprenticeships in various departments; technical, customer services, catering and their current butcher’s apprentice is making a name for herself.     His workforce is trainable but he warned youngsters, they do need to be committed, a comment reiterated by the two young former apprentices.

The apprenticeship programme is like any other job, you have to put the effort and commitment in to reap the rewards.  Competition for places can be tough and some positions will require higher levels of education, dispelling the negative impression that it’s an easy route for those who may not be considered bright.

Gillingham Chamber would like to thank all the speakers, the businesses that were in attendance; Waitrose, Dextra, Neals Yard, Remous, Farnfields.    A big thank you also goes to Andrew Wilson and his team at the Olive Bowl for providing a fabulous array of finger foods.  And finally, to all the teenagers who came along and found the evening so informative.

It was a shame more businesses did not take the opportunity to come and learn or that many students didn’t know about the evening, because the information that was given went a long way to inform about the future in apprenticeships.

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Chamber’s next big event is the Victoriana Fayre on Saturday 2nd December.



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