Trailblazer apprenticeship launch delayed by funding appeal, NSITG told

Michelle Turner chairing the video conference that was November’s NSITG meeting. She provided an update on stone’s Trailblazer apprenticeship.

The hoped for pre-Christmas launch of the long-awaited Trailblazer apprenticeship in stone will not now happen, the online meeting of the Natural Stone Industry Training Group (NSITG) heard on 24 November.

Stone’s Trailblazer apprenticeship had its End Point Assessment signed off by the Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA), set up by the government to oversee the creation of Trailblazer apprenticeships, in October.

The final assessment has to be carried out independently and both training and the assessment are to be offered by colleges.

The colleges intending to deliver the new apprenticeship training and end point assessment are Bath College, the Building Crafts College in London, York College and Weymouth College.

York College said if the grant was agreed in time it intended to start the first year of the apprenticeship with a three week block attendance commencing on 30 November.

The IFA made an offer to fund the Trailblazer but the colleges say it is less than half what they need.

Michelle Turner, a Director of Essex-based company Stone Restoration Services, chairs the NSITG and, with Training Officer Claire Wallbridge, has led the development of the stone Trailblazer. She told the NSITG meeting that the latest person from the IFA dealing with the stone apprenticeship has now moved on and would be replaced.

The frequent changing of the person the stone industry has had to deal with, the IFA Relationship Manager, as well as the length of time between IFA meetings, have been among the reasons it has taken so long for the Trailblazer to reach this stage.

The government’s announcement that it intended to work with industry on the creation of more standardised apprenticeships goes back to the publication in 2013 of The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Implementation Plan 3. The stone industry started working on its Traiblazer in 2016.

The government’s aim with Trailblazers is to make what an apprenticeship means more relevant and understandable to employers and the apprentices themselves, so they are seen as being a viable alternative to higher education. It also wanted to grow the number of apprenticeships available and put employers in the driving seat to make sure apprenticeships deliver the skills industry needs.

The stone apprenticeship has a core syllabus with various routes to completion, including one for memorial masonry.

The funding offer from the IFA – and how much it was is not being made public at this point – was based on what has been offered to other trades. But the colleges say teaching stonemasonry requires more resources than teaching some of the other trades and the stone Trailblazer could not be delivered with the funding offered.

Michelle could not say when the appeal will be heard. “The IFA have very set times when they can look at things and their gaps seem to be pretty long. But it doesn’t flip that way when it comes to us making an appeal – we had 10 days.”

More money for training

In the meantime, Claire Wallbridge invites anyone registered with the CITB who needs training to email her ([email protected]) and let her know because the NSITG is currently in the unusual position of having additional funds available from the CITB to support members undertaking training until March 2021.

She says £25,000 has been made available and if it isn’t claimed it will be lost. “Please, please get in touch with me so we can utilise that money,” she told the meeting.

There was also an update during the meeting on the apprenticeship scheme in Wales, which is different from that of England. Claire Wallbridge has been working with the Welsh on its development.

Restore Academy

There was also a presentation from Charles Richards and his associate Sean White, who runs his own conservation company. Charles, who said he started out in architecture, is the founder of a new training venture in Lewisham, London, called Restore Academy.

It has been given Lewisham Art House to restore, which it intends to use to offer as an introduction to heritage building work, especially for black, Asian & minority ethnic (BAME) people, women, and others under-represented in the sector.

Charles anticipates it will take about 10 years to complete the renovation of the Art House.

Restore Academy has partnered with Lewisham College, the local further education provider, and Charles has been approaching organisations such as the NSITG to see how they might work together.

The aim is to introduce people to work they might not even have known existed before they came on the course.

To take part, people will have to be more than 19 years old.

The courses last just six weeks and cover topics such as stone repairs, façade cleaning, pointing, heritage brickwork and Helibar stitching.

Clearly there is a limit to what novices can learn in six weeks, but the point is not to give them the skills to do the work but the incentive to do it. There are courses at Lewisham College they can go on to from Restore Academy.

Charles says there are other buildings that Restore Academy has been offered to work on in the same way and can see how the programme could roll out across the country.

Below. Charles (left) and Sean explain the aims of Restore Academy.