Apprenticeships and the younger generation: an Interview with Billy Meldrum

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Billy-Meldrum-290X217Billy Meldrum is the new Centre Manager of EEF’s training campus in Aston, the Technology Training Centre and the Technology Hub, responsible for managing, developing and continually improving the quality of delivery of their operations. Billy has close to 20 years’ experience in a variety of human resources roles, varying from generalist roles through resourcing, recruitment, learning and development management, which has established a set of skills and knowledge that are ideally suited to the operations of a larger apprenticeship provider centre.

Most recently Billy has been the learning and development manager working within Staffordshire Police Force, prior to that he was in a similar role at mechanical engineering services company, Doosan Babcock Ltd, based at their national training centre in the West Midlands. In these roles he had the responsibility to develop, implement and evaluate training to align with complex and fast moving business environments. 

Billy has vast experience of managing training programmes ranging from apprenticeships to leadership programmes through to short course technical training, managing teams with a wide skills mix focused on producing the highest level of service to all customers, whilst supporting learners through professional development to support ambitious careers development.

What made you decide to take on this role?

In the past two years I have been working for the Staffordshire Police Force but needed to leave because of my father’s illness at the time. However, when I encountered the opportunity to join EEF and spoke about it with my father, we were both in agreement that it was too good an opportunity not to apply for. It was a perfect fit for me moving forward. When I left Doosan Babcock I was very aware that I had spent 20 years working for the same organisation and I wanted to expand my horizons, which is why I joined Staffordshire police - to do something very different. During my time with the police I realised that I really wanted to get back to engineering and I also missed working and engaging with the younger generation. 

The exciting thing about this role for me was the growth that EEF has gone through. I could see it was an organisation that was very ambitious. To have the opportunity to come in and take that success on to the next level was too good of an opportunity to miss out on.

Why are apprenticeships so essential to organisations?

I speak to employers on a daily basis and what they highlight is the fact that apprentices bring to the UK and to those companies is the new skill set required for the next generation of workers. What we at EEF are looking to do is to develop for the future of manufacturing. We are not just training for the workforce needs of today, we are training for the workforce needs of tomorrow. We know there are huge skill shortages across all areas of engineering and the challenge and the reward is in bringing people to a training centre like we have here at the EEF Technology Hub and introduce them to cutting-edge equipment, software and technology. It is exciting to being able to look at the next generation of workers and the next generation of needs of engineering and manufacturing. So apprenticeships is not just about skills in their purely technical form, but it is about developing the people who are looking to challenge and to innovate – people who exhibit the behaviours and qualities the workforce needs for the future.

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Why should businesses invest in apprenticeships?

It is essential for companies, especially for larger organisations, to look in to the possibilities of how they can use their apprenticeship levy. Given that the money has been put to the side, they should be regard it as an opportunity to look across their business and analyse what skills they need for the future and for continued growth.

In addition to creating the skills that need to be brought into the business they should also generate the additional skills – some soft skills, some more innovative skills – that will enable them to take their business forward into the future, as well as to challenge the status quo and the existing workforce.

What would you say to the younger generation? Why should they consider apprenticeships?

Given the current educational structure, I think that apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity for young people to create a solid platform moving forward into any career.  We see the breadth of apprenticeships growing all the time and there’s good reason for that – higher education fees and student debts create a burden for them. Apprenticeships allow them not just to develop their knowledge and have a greater understanding of how the industry works, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn while working on the job and learn the practical skills and competencies that are required as well – and in doing that earn a wage. This enables young people to save and create an important financial basis, which is becoming harder to achieve these days, and create a positive long-term future for themselves without the burden of debt.

How can we generate attraction of new apprentices to engineering programmes?

We are always working from outside the academics structure. I think we need schools and colleges to be more engaged with external providers like ourselves and we need to be very positive in terms of how we get ourselves out there. EEF takes this very seriously and we are very pro-active in this regard. Our engagement staff is going out into the communities, working with schools, educating young people with what is available from EEF and within engineering in general, and providing very solid, well researched career advice for all individuals, regardless of what direction they might want to go in. 

What do you think of the training facilities at EEF and the level of training?

I’ve worked in training for many years and came from a training centre that I thought then was the state-of-the-art facility and it was, but there’s nothing that can compare in the UK with the training quality and the environment that EEF provides - from the classrooms to the shop floor, and the variety and amount of engineering equipment that is available in a very safe environment to learn in.

If there are organisations out there who are not entirely sure what they need or how to approach apprenticeships, I would encourage them to contact EEF because we would be able to sit down with them and provide guidance that is suitable for their specific needs. We are also present in many national events, as well as our open days, where employers and young people can come in and engage with us. We are more than happy to show what our capabilities are and answer the questions that people have.

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