Rationale behind the apprenticeship programme
Apprenticeship schemes are not a new thing for the RNLI; we already invest in apprentices in the engineering and marketing departments.
The legal team had already trained two solicitors, and we were keen to explore the benefits of giving young people from the community the advantage of a legal career without the cost of attending a university to gain a degree. We currently have two trainee paralegals.
Where we found useful information
We have an in-house resource specialising in apprenticeship schemes who we approached initially. Then we talked to CILEX and examined the guidance on what was needed. We also talked to other business areas about their experiences of using apprentices and to apprentices themselves from other parts of the RNLI.
We put together a business case for employing apprentices, given the cost involved and the time in training. We did not use an external organisation.
At the early stages, the biggest barrier is understanding what learning is required by the apprentices, and in particular what learning they are required to undertake in the workplace to complete the academic part of their training.
We focused the advertising on local schools and recruited in a similar way to recruiting any other employee. Naturally, we could not expect the applicants to demonstrate technical expertise so we were looking for confident individuals who could work well with the team, were keen to develop and had strong communication skills.
Ensuring you have an understanding of the academic requirement and how that relates to the workplace will help you to plan a programme of learning for the apprentices
For us, the key is to ensure that the quality of the apprenticeship programmes comes before the quantity of apprentices we take on. It is essential to make use of everyone in the organisation with insights into business plans and the associated workforce needs.
Apprenticeships should be on the agenda in all workforce planning conversations. With the range of apprenticeships growing, there are increasing opportunities to offer apprenticeships, not only to those starting out on their career, but also those returning to work, existing staff seeking development opportunities and those looking for a career change.
Gaining enthusiastic, committed and energetic individuals who understand the value of gaining knowledge whilst receiving payment.
It is an invaluable opportunity for bright young people - who, for various reasons, can’t or don’t want to go to university - to have paid training in a legal environment with release for study. By the time they qualify they have amassed significant experience, not just in law but in legal practice, working within teams, dealing with clients and juggling the demands of a challenging practice. And they can do this without the added pressure of debt hanging over them.
It provides an opportunity to train employees in the organisation’s methods and ways of working so that at the end of the apprenticeship you have a ‘home-grown’ employee.
It can be a really valuable method of employment, but it does require commitment to get the best out of the apprentices.
We currently have two apprentices in our legal team. Given the size of the team, it’s unlikely we would increase the number of people on the programme. We would have consider whether to take apprentices in the future on the full solicitor apprenticeship.
We also have apprentices across our engineering and marketing departments.
RNLI apprentice Gemma Sparks
Gemma Sparks is a 19-year-old apprentice in her first year of a two-year legal apprenticeship with the RNLI.
‘I didn’t want huge student debts’
I’m interested in law, and I liked the sound of the apprenticeship route, but I thought law was something you had to go to university for. I took a gap year after my A-levels and had six months in Canada visiting my family and travelling around, and I applied for law at university and got accepted into all five universities I applied for.
When I came back to the UK, I was looking for a job and I wanted to see if there were any legal apprenticeships I could go for. I wasn’t keen on university because I didn’t want the huge student debt. For me, an apprenticeship was a better option as you’re not just going to seminars but actually working within law, learning from the solicitors and earning money whilst you’re doing it.
I chose the RNLI because I like that I am actually working towards something, rather than just making money for a company. I’m really proud to say I work for the RNLI.
I studied Government and Politics, English, and IT for my A-levels. One of the units was on government structure, judges and courts, which was something I’d covered in my A-level Government and Politics classes, so this knowledge put me a little bit further ahead in my apprenticeship.
‘I’m starting to work on cases alone now’
Every day is different. I start at 8am and generally finish at 4:30pm. I write advice notes and conduct legal research. My line manager gives me cases to work on, and I go to meetings with him and help him, and also work closely with the HR team. I’m starting to work on cases alone now, which is pretty scary.
My line manager will also book in time to teach me a topic, such as redundancies. It’s not a very cheery topic, but it’s an important one to know. I also get half-days on Mondays and Thursdays to do my college work, which is done online and mainly taught through webinars. Occasionally I have to go to Bristol for exams and courses, and my assessor comes down to see how I’m getting on.
‘Go for it’
The best thing about my apprenticeship is learning from the solicitors, as they all have really interesting backgrounds and have worked in different types of law firms and organisations. Their varied expertise is really helpful.
To anyone wanting to go for an apprenticeship: go for it - even if you don’t think you’re going to get it:. Don’t doubt yourself, because if you don’t try for it you don’t know and you’re not losing anything by going for it.
I found it really useful to have some basic knowledge of law before I started. Just knowing a few of the fundamentals made it easier to start learning things and building on that knowledge, so I’d recommend learning a few basics.