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Ladder for Shropshire: Duke of York gives royal approval for apprentices

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It started out with a challenge from the Duke of York to become a 'local solution' to the problem of youth unemployment across the region.

Now the Ladder campaigns – which have expanded to include Shropshire, the Black Country and Staffordshire – have led to the creation of more than 1,000 apprenticeships.

Representatives from the Shropshire Star and its partners, including the Vine Trust and Performance Through People (PTP), attended an event hosted by the Duke at St James's Palace to mark the milestone.

But it was the apprentices that took centre stage. More than 100 of them were in attendance, some of whom have now moved on to full-time careers in their chosen professions.

Shropshire Star editor Martin Wright spoke to the Duke

They included 19-year-old Nathan Hitchcock, who started an apprenticeship at Steel Processing Midland (SPM) a year ago.

He said: "I had no idea what I wanted to do after I finished school and struggled to get a job.

"I was going for interviews and getting told that I didn't have enough experience. But how was I going to get experience if I couldn't get a job? It was frustrating.

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"I found out about apprenticeships through PTP. It has enabled me to try lots of different types of roles at the company. Hopefully I can get a full time job there."

Dan Cope from Pal Group meets Prince Andrew, the Duke Of York, at the Ladder celebration event at St James's Palace

SPM's commercial director Nick Liggins, from Aldridge in the West Midlands said: "We currently have 45 staff, with around eight apprentices.

"We're looking at some serious growth over the next few years. We have found apprenticeships enable us to bring in employees and mould them into the way we operate.

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"Our experience of the Ladder has been fantastic. It has opened up a lot of people's eyes to the value of apprenticeships. It's great for the young people who have shown such drive to succeed to have the positive experience of meeting the Duke in recognition."

Shereen O'Driscoll, Kaytie Branston, Diane Pittom and Scott Kenzie from West Midlands Ambulance Service

Frances Moore, 22, who works in business support for PTP, spoke with the Duke as he chatted to apprentices during the event.

She said: "He asked me about different learning styles and I explained how some people learn in different ways," she said.

"I hated every moment of sixth form and when I decided I wanted to go into industry an apprenticeship was the best fit for me. It has been great to learn and progress with the company."

Her colleague Laura Cross, 21, added: "I didn't do well in the classroom because I learn by doing.

"Apprenticeships are not generally promoted in schools, so it was good to hear the Duke talk about them being an alternative to university."

Clair Schafer from Ladder For Shropshire was introduced to the Duke during the event at St James's Palace

West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS) was out in force with three former apprentices – Kaytie Branston, Scott Kenzie and Shareen O'Driscoll – all of whom have gone on to gain full-time jobs as technicians and drivers.

Diane Pittom, organisational development officer for WMAS, said: "The achievements of our apprentices have been fantastic and we are looking forward to spreading the net outside the West Midlands to help more committed young people into employment."

Shirley Tart

A day at Oxford Services on the M40 would have been all right, well perhaps. But since we were heading for London and a royal date, sorry but it wasn't good enough. It had to be London or bust.

Happily, we dodged being 'bust' but when our coach appeared to give up the ghost about 60 miles from the planned destination (at said services) things looked a tad bleak for a while.

However, cheer-up time soon arrived when the hydraulics came to life again and off we went towards a 'minutes to spare' arrival. At a palace. So for goodness sake don't be late. And in the end, we weren't.

But we were ever so pleased as we turned a corner towards the St James Palace entrance when the coach was flagged down by a major domo type of gentleman wearing a uniform, a wide smile and surely with a degree in frantic arm waving.

What a welcome. And well in keeping with the afternoon because we were there to meet Prince Andrew, Duke of York, take tea and posh biscuits with him and most importantly of all, to highlight the success story of the Apprentices Ladder scheme of which the Prince is patron and an exceptionally keen supporter.

He joined us and some of our local apprentices at the Shropshire Star last year and yesterday, it was a pleasure to catch up with the 'ladder' news and to be part of the day when we proudly saw more young apprentices who are making their mark in the world of work, meet the prince.

Well, no snowstorms, the sun shone and the Duke appeared in smart suit and with that direct look which can be a bit disconcerting but which is actually a clue that he really listens. And that he really wants to make a difference for young people in particular.

One of the oldest palaces, the beautiful St James was built by Henry Vlll in the early 1530s and is not open to the public which doubles the treat in being invited at all. Indeed the palace is home to some members of today's royal family including the Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra so we were all the more privileged to be there. Indeed one guest got quite excited when she spotted that the Princess Royal had her very own, named parking space.

Well of course she does, she lives there!

Inside, the fabulous rooms have the finest trappings including majestic paintings and all the staff looking after us were truly lovely - so friendly, with wide smiles and nothing too much trouble.

As for the man of the moment, Prince Andrew raises spirits a bit with his enthusiasm and yesterday proved another big boost to all those involved in the ladder scheme, to companies, to trainers and especially to the young people themselves as they set out towards careers.

And there's no doubt about it, a real royal interest in schemes, business and so on can be priceless. The Prince of Wales has proved that with the Prince's Trust and his brother is doing the same with his passion for ladders.

And for sure, we wouldn't want to be late for that!

by Shirley Tart

Four apprentices that work for the Shropshire Star and its sister paper the Express & Star were also at the event. Trainee reporter Jamie Brassington, 22, said he had an enjoyable chat with the Duke about how he had developed as a journalist over the last 18 months, adding: "It was a fantastic event for the Ladder, which has helped so many young people across the region get into work. I have been proud to be a part of it and would encourage other young people to look at apprenticeships. The success of so many young people in going on to full time jobs shows the strength of the scheme."

Numerous organisations who have backed the Ladder were represented at the event, including the Chamber of Commerce and councils in the region.

Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, praised the role of the Shropshire Star for "picking up the baton" and promoting apprenticeships. "It has set a great example for the rest of the press to follow," he added.

At the event Kevin Davis, chief executive of the Vine Trust, announced the creation of the new Ladder foundation, which he said would help the scheme to develop nationwide.

Ladder can grow quite a long way

The Duke of York

The Duke of York has called for more small businesses in the region to take on apprentices as he hailed the success of the growing Ladder campaigns.

Speaking at an event to celebrate the creation of more than 1,000 apprenticeships across Shropshire, the Black Country and Staffordshire, the Duke said the scheme had been a catalyst to creating more jobs for young people.

He spoke as it was announced that a Ladder foundation is set to be formed to develop the scheme across the country, while a new Ladder school is set to open at an as yet unnamed location in September 2017.

The Duke, who is patron of the Ladder, said: "I think the Ladder can grow quite a long way.

"My personal view is that if there is a small business – and there are far more small businesses than there are big businesses – just take on one young person.

"That would help the unemployment figures and help businesses, but it would also boost the economy by some considerable margin. One apprenticeship makes a huge difference to an individual, but if you have managed to do more than 1,000 you've got momentum, and that momentum will keep going because those businesses will come back for more apprentices.

"They will get used to the concept. The first one is probably more difficult to manage because it is a learning experience for both the apprentice and the business.

"Once they have the mechanisms to take an apprentice they will take another one, and another one.

"I can say with a good degree of certainty that those people who have taken on an apprentice and given them full time employment have grown as a result, because it has allowed businesses the extra capacity to grow."

The Duke also paid tribute to the campaign for raising awareness of the importance of apprenticeships as 'a viable alternative' to university and college.

"I don't think there's a single young person who is not grateful for the experience they have had on an apprenticeship," he said.

"The Ladder campaign has raised so much awareness – probably less to young people but more to parents – that there is a method of getting to young people who may not necessarily be dead-set on becoming a university graduate that there are other options.

"To each and every one of those young people that I have spoken to, they have gained enormously from the experience.

"Some of them are now in part time education whilst being a full time employee, some are considering continuing to grow their business knowledge.

"It is a horse for each different course, but it has been interesting to see the difference it has made."

His Royal Highness spent time at the event chatting to young people who had benefitted from a result of the Ladder scheme.

"I've seen some people here that I have met before, and it has transformed them," he said. "That transformation is fantastic to see."

Back in September 2014, the Duke, who has visited the Shropshire Star in Ketley as part of his work with the Ladder, said that creating just one apprenticeship would be a major success as it would change that person's life.

Commenting on the growth of the Ladder over the last 20 months, he said: "Little did I realise that it would expand at the rate that it has.

"I didn't think that when I was first asked to do this that I would now be talking about the fact that this will be going across the country.

"You've got local authorities, businesses, chambers of commerce – they have all come onside. That is absolutely fantastic.

"The fact is that the ladder is now a campaign that is broadening its horizons across the UK.

"Nobody has tried to run before they can walk. This is not something that needs to get done today. It is something that we need to work at over the next 10, 20, 50 years. I can only see that this is going to have enormous benefit for young people and businesses in the coming years."

Prince Andrew also praised the role of regional newspapers, including the Shropshire Star, for combating youth unemployment.

"I want to make it clear the participation of regional journals is incredibly valuable," he said.

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