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We have woken up to apprenticeships

By Joanne Lennox

The power of collaboration

I’ve been part of Workplus from the outset. What most attracted us was the prospect of real and sustained collaboration, and what could be achieved through that in terms of shaping an apprenticeship culture, giving industry a louder voice, greater influence, as well being part of engaging and informative campaigns.

Every company has their own single–minded agenda but, with Workplus, you join peers and competitors in a shared goal to build new talent pipelines and create more opportunities for people to have employment and continue their education. I love that picture of one big spotlight instead of a series of small torches.

“Workplus has brought industry together to ensure we have a platform, one clear voice that reaches government, schools, young people, FE and HE institutions.”


For me, personally, it has been a wonderful way of growing my professional network, challenging thinking and meeting colleagues across the industry with a shared purpose and platform.


Easier way to find apprentices

Farrans employs over 500 people and as a business we have significant experience of working on projects of all sizes across a wide range of sectors. We are competing for skills against other large civil engineering and building companies and we need to put together an eye–catching, well–designed and comprehensive marketing campaign which reaches schools, young people and parents. Workplus takes the pain out of this and creates informative and highly engaging campaigns.

“For me, a busy HR professional, Workplus is easy and represents good value for money”


No trawling through CVs, no advertising and I don’t have to dedicate as much resource or time to recruiting apprentices. 

The Workplus platform manages the applications and makes shortlisting very straight–forward. More than that, it’s also about advocacy and influencing government, colleges and universities with the message that industry must be central to the apprenticeship conversation.

Moving away from a pigeon–holed graduate culture and creating new talent streams

At Farrans, we’ve been on a journey with apprenticeships. Traditionally – and like many companies in Northern Ireland – we hired graduates, and any apprenticeships were Level 2 and Level 3. We were pigeon–holed into a graduate culture. I’m delighted that, as a company, we have woken up to apprenticeships.

“Workplus has enabled us to think about a new talent stream and develop them professionally, giving opportunities at every level.”


Workplus is leading the way in employer–led apprenticeships. This is vital because content and qualifications have to be fit for purpose. There is no point in having a qualification without the right skills. And, without employers being a key part of the conversation, qualifications will never ring true to what is actually required.

There is another important aspect to industry–led apprenticeships: more clout with schools, young people and parents. This isn’t just about colleges and universities trying to recruit – this is about real jobs, career pathways and professional development. That transforms it! It allows young people to make an informed decision about choosing the right career path.

Employers’ voices need to be there to reassure the next generation that there are options – very good options!

“It is exciting to be part of a changing culture of apprenticeships and Workplus has been working hard to educate on the different levels and types of apprenticeships available.”


My team and I are finding more careers teachers want to talk to us about apprenticeships and schools are now approaching us because they have already heard of Higher Level apprenticeships.

From a CSR perspective, we feel like we are giving back to the community, giving young people an option that allows them a degree without the debt, giving back to the economy and addressing the skills gap in Northern Ireland.

I would encourage other employers who haven’t yet embraced apprenticeships not to write them off. Investigate what’s is out there. There is a lot of help and support. There is also active support from employers who have been on this journey and are only too happy to share our learnings and knowledge.

Apprentices as employees

At Farrans, there is a marked difference in staff turnover between graduates and apprentices. We have less of a churn with our apprentices. We find that apprentices can be aligned in such a way that they very quickly become part and parcel of the organisation. They have a greater sense of belonging and become a value–adding employee much faster than graduates.

At Farrans, we are not tethered to salary scales, but ensure our reward package is assessed and aligned based on the apprentice’s performance, technical capabilities and experience. 

“We expect our Higher Level apprentices to be at the level of Project Manager before they finish their degree.”

Higher Level apprentices are highly competitive so there are some things apprentices can do to give themselves an edge. I always advise prospective apprentices to do plenty of research, ask lots of questions and engage with the colleges and universities. At Farrans, we always like to see work experience, extra–curricular activities and volunteering. These things show a drive and determination which will bring an applicant to the fore.

Joanne Lennox is Head of People and Engagement at Farrans

If you’re interested in joining Joanne and others in exploring how apprenticeships can improve your talent pipeline, we’d love to hear from you.




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