Stagecoach Group UK Managing Director Carla Stockton-Jones on the importance of apprenticeships

Amongst the terrible human cost of the Covid-19 crisis, the impact on our country’s young people and their prospects is of major concern. Research published last year by the Resolution Foundation suggested that youth unemployment will not return to pre-pandemic levels for at least another four years, with unemployment between 18 to 29-year-olds predicted to mushroom to levels last seen in the 1980s before the picture improves.

New initiatives to help young people have been launched by governments across the UK to help deliver new employment opportunities and ensure this critical part of our future workforce has the skills needed to support a green recovery from the pandemic.

Apprenticeships are a critical part of that plan and an area that Stagecoach has invested in for many years. With National Apprenticeship Week getting underway today, it’s vital that we all play our part in helping the country to re-build and help young people to kick start their careers.

As the UK’s biggest bus, coach and tram operator, apprenticeships bring huge value to our business in terms of talent and diversity. We have been at the forefront of championing apprentices in our workforce for many years and currently have 800 apprentices across our companies in England, Scotland and Wales. As well as ensuring that our workforce represents the communities we serve, apprenticeships provide opportunities for internal development and succession planning.

We have so many examples of apprentices who have successfully continued their career path with us. Alec Bradley started as a Stagecoach apprentice in 2005 and following a third promotion, has recently been appointed Engineering Manager at Worthing in West Sussex. Former apprentice Tony Vincent is now Engineering Director in our South West of England business.

We’re also very proud of the female apprentices we’ve attracted to the business, who have gone on to have a very successful career with us and blazed a trail in expert roles previously dominated by men. Jemma Wood, who started at Stagecoach in 2011 as a mechanical apprentice, has recently been appointed Deputy Engineering Manager at Stagecoach in Peterborough. As part of our ‘Trade Up’ scheme, we’re also helping people to pursue new opportunities internally. Lee Jones started as a driver in Aberdare, South Wales, but aspired to be an engineering technician, so moved onto our engineering apprenticeship scheme. And we are also helping support more people from ethnic minorities to get their foot on the career ladder through our various apprenticeship programmes.

To achieve that balanced and talented workforce, we have to be relentless in rethinking how we recruit, train and retain good people. We have to advertise in the right way, and create training programmes that help our young people to consider the public transport sector as a career choice.

We have to appeal to people with a broad range of backgrounds and early in their journey from education to the workplace to get across the message that there is no wrong path in deciding their future career. We want to broaden the horizons of young people and convince them that their further studies and apprenticeships can be in subjects such as engineering or bus driving – key worker roles that have kept Britain moving during this most difficult of past years.

And when we have these people in our business, we aim to give them the right support network and the opportunities they need to succeed. We have many people within Stagecoach who are helping to mentor our leaders and managers of the future, passing on their experience and skills to the next generation through initiatives such as Developing the Young Workforce, Career Ready and Barnardo’s Works.

Developing and training young talent through apprenticeships is also critical to securing the skills we need to support our multi-million-pound investment in cleaner fleets.  It’s an exciting time for the bus industry, with major investment being made in zero and low emission buses, such as in Manchester where we have introduced one of the biggest fleets of electric double-decker buses in Europe. We are looking at how our apprenticeship programmes cover these new technologies and ensure we have the right people trained to deal with our fleets of the future.

But Stagecoach is about far more than operations and engineering. The hundreds of apprenticeship roles we have across our business cover a wide variety of different areas and we’re already piloting new apprenticeships in non-technical roles, such as human resources and learning and development.

When I started out on my career journey 25 years ago at Cellnet (now o2) I had the privilege of working for an incredibly supportive boss, Gilly Love. Gilly took a chance on me when I walked through the door at their head office and asked the staff on security if they knew of any vacancies. They pointed me in the direction of a vacancy in Gilly’s team and called her extension to see if she was free – unbelievably she came to reception to meet me. I told her I didn’t really know what job I wanted to do but that I wanted to work at Cellnet. Within two weeks I was hired by her and she took me under her wing and taught me so much about the business. I went on to have a fantastic first career at Cellnet and left four years later with a strong work ethic and a commitment to pay it forward.

Giving our young people a chance through apprenticeships can pay huge dividends for them individually, for their employers, and for the country’s skills base. More than ever this year, we owe that to our young people.

Carla Stockton-Jones was appointed as Stagecoach Group’s UK Managing Director in October 2020. She is the first woman to head a nationwide multi-modal public transport operation in the UK.

An EM60 Presentation, 08 February 2021.

Image of bus depot courtesy of PRgloo Limited.

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