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Celebrating National Apprenticeship Week at River Cottage Chefs' School

Employers and young people gathered in our threshing barn on Monday 9 March to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week and the positive impact of apprenticeships.

The event was organised by Exeter and Heart of Devon Employment and Skills Board in a bid to create a World Class Workforce in Devon, starting with looking at plugging the skills gap with apprenticeships. River Cottage supported the event, along with Devon County Council and the National Apprenticeship Service to showcase how apprenticeships deliver for employers and young people in Devon.

It brought together more than 40 leading businesses with a shared vision to create world class workforce in Devon and more employment opportunities for young people in the region.

The event included an interactive debate with panellists representing businesses employing apprentices, National Careers Service, apprentices, qualification providers and the Skills Funding Agency and gave businesses opportunity to ask experts any questions about apprenticeships. The discussion highlighted the benefits of hiring an apprentice, identified the business support available to companies and ways of engaging with schools and colleges. It showed how implementing apprenticeship schemes in businesses can deliver growth and help create a world-class workforce.

Hugh said on the night: “I’m privileged to have worked in cookery, writing, television, but I have to say the thing I’m most proud of is our apprenticeship programme at River Cottage.”

“Apprenticeships offer young people better opportunities than my generation had. It is important to do something you love in life, whether it’s teaching, cooking, construction or care work. Apprenticeships offer such a wide range of careers that whatever floats your boat there’s an apprenticeship that covers it.”

Mark Shepherd, chairman of EHOD Employment and Skills Board and Regional Branch Manager at Waitrose, who introduced and facilitated the panel discussion, said that in Germany, for example, apprenticeships have a much higher profile and status, with students queueing up to get on the scheme. He sees it as his personal mission to raise awareness so employers and young people recognise the potential of apprenticeships and the benefits and opportunities they bring.

Jane Boulton, of Axminster Tools & Machinery, said: "To be part of the Exeter and Devon Skills Board interactive evening held at River Cottage to discuss apprenticeships with employers and supporting agencies was a welcomed debate. It is important to support the economic growth within our region, that as employers we take the responsibility of growing our talent in order that we can benefit from a world class workforce and the demands of the skill shortages that we face in the future."

Businesses discussed how more opportunities can be realised through a collaborative approach and getting schools, training providers, employers and influencers on board to drive the apprenticeship agenda forward and unlock the potential of the region’s workforce.

Apprenticeships equip young people with the skills employers need to grow and compete. Nearly every employer that takes on an apprentice reports benefits to their business from improved productivity, products or services, the introduction of new ideas to the organisation, and improved staff morale.

The event was part of the eighth annual National Apprenticeship Week which takes place from 9-13 March 2015, with hundreds of events across England. The Week, which is co-ordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service, is designed to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the economy.