With the government’s plans to reach three million apprenticeships by the year 2020, more toy firms across the nation are starting to offer their own schemes. Here, Jade Burke speaks to key toy execs and retailers to find out how beneficial they are and how youngsters can get their foot on the ladder in the toy industry.
Apprenticeships are starting to pick up throughout many sectors, and the toy industry is no different. With global companies including the likes of Mattel, Smyths and Spin Master all offering their own schemes to help get students on to the career ladder, the future is bright for young people.
Back in 2014, business secretary Vince Cable revealed that the government had fulfilled its commitment to start two million apprenticeships, a massive milestone for the UK.
With this in mind, the government hopes to reach three million apprenticeship starts in 2020 as it aims to increase the ‘quality and quantity’ of apprenticeships in England.
“Reaching the two millionth apprenticeship is testament to this government’s commitment to apprenticeships,” Vince Cable explained in a statement 2014.
“This isn’t just about numbers. From space engineering, to TV production, to legal services, apprenticeships are the ticket to a great job and a route employers trust to get the skills they need.”
And it looks like the UK government is well on its way to achieving its goal, as ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed in the 2016 Autumn Statement that the living wage for apprentices would increase from £3.40 per hour to £3.50.
Similarly, Ryan Longmate, MD of Positive Outcomes, a UK provider of apprenticeships and work based training, is welcoming the move.
Longmate explains: “The announced rise in minimum wage for apprentices is definitely a welcome move and helps to make apprenticeships a much more attractive path.”
“One of the persistent myths surrounding apprenticeships is that they’re low paying, but that simply isn’t the case the majority of the time.
“Many employers are willing to pay more than the minimum wage, and this increase, which is higher than most other wage increases announced by the Chancellor is further evidence of the importance placed upon apprenticeships by the government.”
While young people look for places to intern and take on work experience, the toy industry is no different, with ample opportunities available from retail and manufacturing to toy design.
The Entertainer’s learning and development manager, Peta Young, says: “We offer work placements for all ages. Whether it is helping young people get into the world of work or to help someone retrain, we work with local and nationwide providers to make this happen.
“Retail is a fast and exciting industry and we are ambitious about helping shape and build our retailers of the future. We are delighted when work placements gain employment with us but we are just as happy when their experience with us helps them gain employment elsewhere too.”
Global toy firm Mattel is no different and also offers its students the chance to gain real life experiences through its internship programme, while also offering practical skills and vital career choices.
“It’s a valuable way to give the next generation an opportunity for practical hands on experience within an exciting and dynamic industry,” cites Wendy Hill, brand activation director at Mattel UK.
“It’s also a great opportunity for businesses to get another perspective and ideas from another generation.”
Likewise, Spin Master also offers its own schemes, which offers students the chance to gain key contacts and a foot in the door to the toy industry.
Jo Thompson, head of public relations at Spin Master Toys, tells ToyNews: “For the last two years, Spin Master has provided an internship opportunity to become a marketing assistant.
“Within this role, the individual gets the chance to take part in a wide range of experiences, from exhibits, shows, launches and awards to everyday duties of a full time job.”
But it isn’t just the big guys who are offering schemes for students; independent retailers are also starting to see the benefits of employing young people as part of work experience, proving just how crucial apprenticeships are.
“We feel that it is our duty to help to educate young people about business whenever we can,” declares Dr Wendy Hamilton, owner and manager of Grasshopper Toys.
“We have children in from the local schools to do work experience as part of the ‘go to work with your parent day’ schemes. On a more intensive level, we work with our local job placement schemes to give school leavers work experience for periods of time from four weeks up to six months.”
Owner of The Cambridge Toy Shop, Vivienne Watson, continues: “We have had two people go through a full year apprenticeship on a government scheme which worked really well. It’s great to help youngsters who have struggled and who need a bit of boost and encouragement to do better.”
It’s clear to see that the toy industry is taking advantage of apprenticeship and work experience schemes, and is no doubt invaluable to any company choosing to do so. By taking on a fresh-faced youngster, employers will gain the insight from a new generation, while offering students the chance to gain key life skills they may not be able to pick up at university or college. A sentiment that Hamilton echoes.
“Youngsters leave school and enter the work force unprepared for the practicalities of a working day,” she adds. “We need to have stronger practical links between secondary education and business in order to ensure a seamless transition for our young people.”
It is common for a student to gain future employment through an apprenticeship scheme, as a 2014 study from London.gov.uk reveals 85 per cent of apprentices will stay in employment, with two-thirds staying with the same employer, thus making it a crucial tool for companies to offer.
Drawing on her own experience, Cara Davies PR and events manager at Firebox, believes work placement schemes are an invaluable way to get into your chosen industry.
“Working as an assistant in a PR team enabled me to quickly learn valuable skills about my craft, and make contacts that ultimately led to me being asked to return to the company where I interned years later,” Davies explains.
“It is hard graft, and the uncertainty of future work can be difficult at times, but interning can be a great way for newly graduated workers to springboard themselves into the marketplace.”
Young resonates: “We have specifically found work placements a great source of future employees, and in 2015, 25 per cent of our placements resulted in paid work with us.”
Considering this, offering an apprenticeship or work experience scheme is clearly something smaller companies and retailers should jump on board with. By contacting the UK government and setting up a programme, no doubt youngsters will be flocking in their masses to share their expertise with businesses.
For example, Jane Holtom, co-owner of the Cheshire Toy Shop, suggests that students will have a better understanding when it comes to matters of the internet, which will undeniably enrich a business’ offering.
She explains: “With the growth in social media, the need to be found on search engines and the importance of good imagery, young people are key to helping smaller companies like ours grow.”
With the government’s plans increase the number of apprenticeships in the UK, even more, it looks likely that we will start to see firms in the toy industry boost their business with apprenticeship schemes.
Thompson concludes: “These opportunities allow for innovative minds to enter the industry. The toy industry is competitive and forever growing, so it’s invaluable.”