National Apprenticeship Week: Youngsters hail benefits of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park schemes

Khia Bernard. Picture: Rahil Ahmad

Khia Bernard. Picture: Rahil Ahmad - Credit: Rahil Ahmad

An apprenticeship gives you the experience and opportunities you wouldn’t always get at university.

Craig Robinson. Picture: Rahil Ahmad

Craig Robinson. Picture: Rahil Ahmad - Credit: Archant

That's the message from apprentices working for firms at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.

Khia Bernard stumbled upon her role with energy and services firm Engie in an online search after a stint working for a recruitment firm after finishing A-levels at NewVIc.

The 21-year-old from Plaistow said: "There's so much more value in apprenticeships compared to going to university.

"Being able to work and study at the same time and gain so much opportunity with Engie was a once in a lifetime thing. You get experience, a qualification and experience you would not get at university."

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Khia was speaking ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, an annual celebration used by employers to promote their apprentices' success and raise awareness of the benefits of employers of all sizes taking someone on.

She is half-way towards completing her level three qualification in facilities management, a course accredited by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, after starting in January 2019.

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Of her schoolfriends, Khia is the only one to take the apprenticeship route into work, but she has no regrets.

"A lot of people prefer university because it's what everyone knows. With some of my friends it wasn't really the thing they wanted to do. It was just a normal route.

"When I was in school, university was held in high regard, but for me apprenticeships have a lot more value," Khia said.

Now the budding facilities manager is liaising with clients, meeting engineers and writing reports. Last year she managed volunteers for the Major League Baseball series at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Since 2013, 375 young people have benefited from apprenticeships on and around the iconic venue with plans for more opportunities in the digital, cultural, creative and fashion sectors.

More than 46 per cent of the apprentices working at the park are young people from Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

Major employers have already come to the park and surrounding area including Westfield Stratford City, BT Sport and Transport for London.

Overall, Khia's role is to ensure events run smoothly. Doing so has raised her confidence in her skills. And Engie staff have been there the whole time.

"Everyone is so supportive. They never make you feel like you have to take everything on by yourself. Everyone works as a team," Khia said.

Her dream is to work for the firm, which employs 17,000 people and reports a UK turnover of £3.3billion, and stay at the park.

"It is so well known in Newham. It's nice to see people enjoy the facilities we maintain," Khia added.

On her apprenticeship, Khia said: "I've always struggled to find that one thing I really enjoy, but this is it."

Craig Robinson, who lives in Manor Park, is almost at the end of his five year placement with global construction company, Mace.

The 25-year-old handles the day to day running of contracts at the University of the Arts London building at the East Bank cultural quarter and a bridge spanning a railway line at the park.

Developing relationships with contractors and clients, time management and maintaining his knowledge of construction are among the skills and expertise Craig has developed since starting Mace's scheme in September 2016.

"Everyday is different. You're interacting with people all the time. And there's always an end product so you can see the building you helped build and look back on it with pride," Craig said.

He added that doing his apprenticeship better suits him than the football business degree he completed before.

"I didn't get much from lectures. I wasn't learning much. I prefer learning on the job," he said.

Lyn Garner, chief executive of park guardian London Legacy Development Corporation, said: "We are passionate about apprenticeships. With world-class organisations moving to the park there are exciting opportunities for all."

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