‘It allows one generation to pass on their skills, knowledge and understanding and behaviours to another’ – celebrating the value of apprentices as part of National Apprenticeship Week 2021

“Apprenticeships provide the service with a consistent and quality-assured set of standards which provide a foundation to create a learning environment that is safe, engaging and meets the needs of the organisation.”

The latest cohort of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service apprentices have donned their boots, leggings, tunics and helmets for the first time and are enjoying their introduction to fire hose running as they take their first tentative steps towards a career as firefighters.

Although finding it “physically demanding” they are keen to show off what they have learnt so far as part of National Apprenticeships Week – which began on Monday (8 February).

“The concept is a simple one which allows the experience of one generation to be passed to the next while allowing a new approach to skills, knowledge and understanding to be brought in,” said Tim Wareham, Learning and Development Manager for the service.

They are the third cohort to come through the system since the standard was created in 2018 and the service hopes to build on the successes of those that have come before.

Holly Copestake is one of the latest to be taken on as an Apprentice Firefighter and she spoke about the level of support she has received from her peers and officers since she began.

“When I was invited to participate in the apprenticeship I was over the moon, but had very little idea of what to expect,” she said.

As it turns out, this apprenticeship is split into different phases, with the first phase – acquisition of core skills – delivered over 13 weeks of intensive training at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service HQ, followed by a blend of off-the-job training and on-the-job exposure.

“Firefighters at my local station had informed me that the course is physically and mentally demanding, and I can confirm they were telling the truth.

“The scenarios and drills we practice are definitely physically demanding, and there are mental demands – theory and science, policy practices and procedures.

“But what I didn’t expect was the level of support from each other and the staff, we all have our strengths and weaknesses as a team and we ensure that we learn from each other.

“After the first couple of weeks we have all come out of our shells, and as a nice surprise my most recent muscle to ache is my face from smiling and laughing so much.”

And Holly knows that on completion of this programme they’ll be on the way to realising their dreams of becoming a competent firefighter.

“I know that we have a two-year apprenticeship in front of us,” she added. “We will strive to maintain, improve and build on the new skills and knowledge received throughout the 13-week course to develop and ensure we are an asset to our crew and the communities we serve.”

Richard Metcalf is also among the cohort and he has enjoyed trying to live up to the high standard of those who have gone before him.

“The course is going really well so far and is what I expected,” he said. “The help and support we have received from the course director – Station Manager Lee Chevin – and the training team to learn the in-depth skills and standards has been invaluable. The wealth of knowledge and experience of all the trainers has exceeded my initial expectations and has been a crucial part of learning.

“My expectation is that after 13 weeks we will have gained a solid foundation of knowledge and skills of all the areas I will be expected to deal with as a firefighter in Staffordshire. I realise this is only the start of gaining valuable on-the-job experience throughout my apprenticeship.

“I feel this course will give me confidence for when I join an experienced watch later down the line, as I hope to join them and develop to be a positive role model within the community.”

They’ll be following on from the previous two cohorts of apprentices who have gone on to establish themselves as vital members of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Claire Lester was one of the first cohort of apprentices in 2018, and was awarded the Silver Axe – the service’s award for the most outstanding apprentice on her course.

She pointed out how much this initial 13-week course helped her prepare for the rest of her training.

“The core skills training course provided a balance of practical training and theory, which are put into practice at incidents,” she said. “I completed the Level 3 Operational Firefighter Apprenticeship which gave me a brilliant insight into Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s operational duties, enabling me to develop my skills, knowledge and behaviours to work as a competent confident and professional firefighter.

“One thing I learned is that the learning didn’t stop there. I have gone on to complete several courses for rope and water rescue, experiencing new methods of rescue, and continue to improve my ability to carry out my duties effectively.

“This job gives you real job satisfaction every day knowing you can help people and keep people in the community safe.”

And Tim added that the positions hold real benefits for those who wish to become firefighters – and they are a real asset to the fire service too.

“The benefits to them are many,” he said. “They explore the needs of the organisation and it allows one generation to pass on their skills, knowledge and understanding and behaviours to another set of new people.

“We hadn’t recruited wholetime apprentices for eight years until the first cohort in 2018. The consistent approach that we’ve adopted which was the trailblazer standard for operational firefighters has allowed us to already reap the benefits of having these new people in the organisation as a diverse workforce.

“We continue to utilise it as a viable, credible alternative to full-time education for a lot of these people. We have a consistent workforce trained with a real job available at the end of that programme.

“There have been many other apprenticeships that were offered in the organisation, so not just firefighters. There were many other business apprenticeships, from business admin to human resources, catering, supplies, logistics and contracts to name a few.”

For more information on all the apprenticeships available, visit: https://www.staffordshirefire.gov.uk/careers/apprenticeships/

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