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Bright Sparks ‘Get Fired Up’ with Gent's Apprenticeship Scheme
Dina Mistry, Apprenticeship Scheme Manager, Gent by Honeywell
Apprenticeship schemes make an invaluable contribution to the fire industry and will no doubt ensure that the next generation of fire safety engineers excel in their field. Not only do apprenticeships allow people to pick up the skills that employers actually need, they help businesses recruit the very best people and are a great retention tool.

Outside of the fire industry, the benefits that apprenticeships bring to UK businesses, in general, has been well documented during recent months. The government’s announcement in April, declaring that the coalition would provide funding for the “biggest apprenticeships programme in this country’s history”, underlined the important role these schemes provide to many industry sectors. The government wants to create thousands more on-the-job training schemes, but in the fire industry we’re already one step ahead of the game.

Gent System Integrators (SIs) are fully aware that successful employees in the fire industry need a combination of practical skills and technical knowledge, and the current apprenticeship schemes are designed to produce exactly that. The students will complete the course with recognised qualifications and the ability to maintain fire detection and alarm systems to the highest standards.

When Gent launched its ‘Get Fired Up’ apprenticeship programme in 2007, it was the only one of its kind that was specific to the fire industry. The scheme provides students, between the ages of 16 and 24, with a structured programme, designed to build a thorough knowledge base of fire alarm systems, rules and regulations, legislation and systems engineering. It gives apprentices the opportunity to learn each stage of the fire system life cycle from the design and installation, to the commissioning, maintenance and servicing.

As well as gaining ‘on the job’ experience during the two to three year course, the trainees work towards the 1853 City and Guilds Certificate in the Knowledge of Electronic Security and Emergency Systems, (working specifically towards a Level 2 Fire Technical Certificate) along with a 2882 City & Guilds NVQ Level 2 Certificate in Providing Security, Emergency and Alarm Systems qualification. The ‘Get Fired Up’ course is run in conjunction with Skills for Security, so whilst Gent is fully involved in the marketing and recruitment processes, the independent education body manages the apprentices while they are at college.

When Gent first introduced the apprenticeship scheme to our extensive network of SIs four years ago, the response was very positive. The SIs appreciate that the main aim of the scheme is to provide them with a selection of ideal, competent, recruits. After all, the apprentices are employed directly by the SI and therefore, with the support and expertise from Gent, the SIs are encouraged to lead the way in each step of the recruitment process.
If the SI is looking to take on an apprentice they can approach Gent with their specific candidate requirements. Whether it is for a school leaver with a strong academic background in sciences, or a college student with a technical flair, the SI sets out their exact specifications and Gent then explores its database to pinpoint the best potential candidates. The SI almost has the best of both worlds, being in total control of the type of person they recruit, but much of the leg work is taken away by Gent to guarantee the right calibre of entrants.

It saves the SI both time and money, with Gent taking care of the administration and, if required, even hosting the interviews and induction days to ensure that candidates have the required attributes. Furthermore, there is no obligation on the part of the SI, so if the process doesn’t result in the perfect apprentice being found we can always go back to the drawing board. Our SIs tell us that one of the main benefits of the apprenticeship scheme is that companies can take advantage of the new employee’s limited experience and willingness to learn and can mould and shape the apprentices to suit their specific business needs.

In today’s tough economic climate many SIs understandably have concerns involving the cost. However, the price of taking on an apprentice is a worthwhile investment for any business. Government funding is available for the full cost of tuition and college fees for 16 to 18 year olds, or for the older apprentices up to the age of 24 the fees are met in part. The System Integrators pay the apprentice’s salary but it is still a far more cost-effective option than hiring skilled staff.

Gent currently has 40 students on the “Get Fired Up” scheme who are at various stages of the programme, some are in their first year and some are progressing onto the more complex Level 3 Fire Technical Certificate. We also have a database of more than 30 keen applicants waiting to be placed in employment. The scheme has a great success rate, attracting young people keen to play a part in keeping the UK’s fire industry at the forefront of fire protection. The country’s SIs need to take a leaf out of Alan Sugar’s book and search to find their perfect apprentice. And with Gent’s expertise, they can confidently say “You’re Hired”.