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NIKOS SAVVAS: Learning as a real life experience

Nikkos Savvas, Principal, West Suffolk College ANL-150503-160010001
Nikkos Savvas, Principal, West Suffolk College ANL-150503-160010001

It was half term a few weeks ago and for me it was a lovely opportunity to spend some quality time with my children. As is the way, with every parent, we want to teach things and impart our wisdom to our children – and if we can entertain them and tire them out at the same time, all the better!

Now my youngest is too young but my elder two are full of energy – so I opted to take them swimming. Fast forward to, what I now see as inevitable, the moment when they thought it was hilarious to start splashing me as they practise their strokes in the water. Now what can you do, it’s part of the joy of parenthood – not to mention the glee of childhood. However, standing there it dawned on me how similar all learning is…

Showing my daughter a picture in a book or watching a YouTube clip on swimming wouldn’t teach her the skills that actually doing the activity alongside someone more experienced does, nor does it engage with her as a real life learning experience would. To learn you need to be involved, be supported and shown by someone who knows what they’re doing, but you also need to enjoy what you are learning and make mistakes. Ultimately, practical experience is often what builds confidence, proficiency and skill. So it doesn’t necessarily matter that Dad got a good splashing, so long as the girls had a good time and got to practise their strokes, as I know they’ll be encouraged to give it another go some other time because they had fun while doing it.

Next week (March 9-13) is National Apprenticeship Week and its slogan is ‘Get in, Go far’. Being in that swimming pool and seeing my daughters learning valuable skills, watching their confidence grow as they tried new things and seeing how much they were enjoying themselves and learning from their little mistakes, is exactly the ethos of apprenticeships.

Since the Middle Ages we have understood the value of learning from the master and learning on the job. A master craftsman was entitled to employ young people as an inexpensive form of labour in exchange for providing food, lodging and formal training in the craft. These young people were in effect ‘apprentices’ who began their tutoring from the age of 10 to 15 and I’d like to hope they enjoyed what they learnt. What many people maybe don’t realise is how much apprenticeships have changed over the years – it’s not just traditional trades that take on apprentices these days – you can be an apprentice in virtually any career and study from a diverse selection of courses available. These apprenticeship courses can gain you qualifications up to A-level and degree level.

At West Suffolk College, students can undertake apprenticeships in accounts and finance, dental nursing, plumbing, business administration, construction and IT to name but a few. As students they gain on the job training as well as spending time studying at college and they earn while they study.

New research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research reveals that apprenticeships will contribute £34 billion to the UK economy this year and 90 per cent of apprentices stay in employment after finishing their apprenticeship. This means nine out of 10 young people already have a job when they finish their apprenticeship; this is profoundly important in a time when we hear of university graduates unable to get jobs.

I’m proud that West Suffolk College is the largest provider of apprenticeship training in Norfolk and Suffolk, with more than 1,300 apprentices on our books and working with more than 700 regional businesses, including Delphi Diesel, Warren Services, NHS Suffolk, Marshall Aerospace, Muntons PLC, Havebury Housing Partnership and Hutchinson Ports (UK) Port of Felixstowe.

More importantly, I’m passionate about educating of our young people – offering them the right first step towards a career. I see apprenticeships as key to this.

One of our students, Dan Swain, didn’t believe that: ‘Engineering could be learnt purely in a classroom’. He is now an apprentice working at Delphi Diesel, whilst studying for a BEng Honours in Engineering at UCS Bury St Edmunds.

So, just like my girls learnt about swimming from our time in the pool while ‘accidentally’ soaking me, apprenticeships can offer people a more engaging chance to ‘get in’ to a company early, learning on the job, enjoying learning and all the while gaining real life experience, alongside academic qualifications.

We are holding an Apprenticeship Open Event and we encourage anyone interested in finding out about being a apprentice to visit the college on Monday, March 9, between 6pm and 8pm.

-- Nikos Savvas is principal of West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds