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Breaking Down Stereotypes: Apprenticeships at EMR

EMR Learning and Development Business Partner at EMR and Chair of the North West Apprenticeship Ambassador Network Laura Kedward

Jack Arksey

Laura Kedward
Laura Kedward

At EMR we're really excited about the opportunity to professionalise metal recycling, investing in the future of an industry that will have such an important role to play as the UK moves towards a more sustainable, circular economy.

One of the key ways we are doing this is through the development of our two sector-specific apprenticeship programmes: Metal Recycling General Operative (MRGO) and Metal Recycling Technical Manager (MRTM) which are delivered through Mayer Environmental and its training division, MET Academy.

At EMR, we are internationally-recognised experts in metal recycling and, by having the opportunity to create the standards as a sector, we have been able to tailor the specific skills needed from our apprentices.

This gives us a great advantage as a business but it also comes with challenges – many people hold misconceptions about what a modern apprenticeship is and just how rigorous and valuable these qualifications can be.

The way we offer apprenticeships at EMR means that there really isn’t a ‘typical apprentice’ – it can be anybody. There is a perception that apprentices are young school leavers, but if we put together a list of names, genders, ages and job roles and asked you who the apprentice is, it could be any or all of them.

What has changed the way apprenticeships work for EMR is that we use them as a development tool, rather than simply as a way to recruit new starters. We currently have many senior figures in our business who are using our MRTM apprenticeship programme to increase their skills and experience on the job.

And when we do use apprenticeships to recruit new team members, we always make sure there is a job available at the end of it.

This means that apprenticeships have become a path for employees to build a career in the industry. Our retention rates show that that people who go through the apprenticeship process want to stay with us.

Through our mentoring and on-site training, our apprentices are also able to benefit from the huge amount of experience that our EMR colleagues have amassed during their own careers. By working with Mayer Environmental and its training division, MET Academy, we can ensure these mentors are passing on that knowledge in the right context.

And it works both ways – we really encourage our apprentices to take ownership of their own learning and to suggest improvements or different ways of working which they’ve learned at MET Academy. It gives our mentors the opportunity to learn from the next generation.

This is about so much more than the stereotype of an apprentice shadowing an employee and perhaps making the tea.

I have been working at EMR for almost four years and I am now coming to the end of my MRGO apprenticeship programme.

The course is very in-depth and a real necessity for getting to grips with the recycling industry. Completing it will help me to progress further through the business. Due to COVID-19 my experience hasn’t been without its challenges but working closely with my mentor, Adrian Lovett, I was able to reach the finish line. His knowledge is second to none and he was by my side, step by step, to make sure I got the skills and experience I needed.

My plans are to build on this experience with either the level five MRTM programme or an equivalent qualification.

Will North, Assistant Manager (non-ferrous), EMR Bradford

It's also important to note that apprenticeships provide opportunities to those who might otherwise not have them. We can provide routes into engineering and logistics for women, for example, who have traditionally not been represented in these areas.

Of course, while these programmes can be relevant to employees at any stage, apprenticeships are a really important route into industries for those at the start of their careers and I think it is important that we celebrate this.

Universities are seen as the traditional destination for many young people but, if I look at some of the apprentices coming through our programmes, the mix of knowledge and on-the-job experience they have built up would be hard for someone coming out of university to compete with.

EMR, like other businesses which invest in apprenticeships, has a responsibility to champion the good news stories about people who have been through the system and where it has taken them. For example, we had an apprentice through our MRGO programme who is thriving and working on some of EMR’s biggest projects as a recognised expert in his field. He is a great advocate for our apprenticeship programme – and there are many like him.

Part of the challenge in getting apprenticeships to have the status and respect they deserve is getting recognition from schools and teachers – who may not have experienced apprenticeships or working in industry themselves. Our work with the Ambassador Apprenticeship Network is about having those conversations and working with the government and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to put apprenticeships on the agenda and help young people get careers advice that includes high-quality apprenticeships such as EMR’s sector-specific programmes.

As EMR prepares for a world that wants to recycle more than ever, apprenticeships are a key way we are investing in the future economy.