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From the ground up

Jason Brown, of Nurture Landscapes, identifies the ways in which to support young people entering the FM sector

According to Prospects, only 17 per cent of university, college and sixth-form students undertook work experience in 2020, with COVID-19 being the cause of around a quarter of students losing work experience placements as businesses began to scale back operations and furlough staff.

For an industry which has a long history of discovering talent through these avenues, the decline in interns and apprentices has hit the facilities management sector hard. With the world starting to get back up and running again, attention should now be turning to how the sector can utilise apprentices and interns in its pandemic recovery.

That includes turning attention back onto recruitment and bringing through new faces to take an organisation forward in the new era – always a challenge even without a global pandemic.


Government figures published in March, a year after the first national lockdown, reveal that in the year 2019/20, there were nearly 23,500 people in apprenticeships in the UK, with those under the age of 19 or starting at intermediate level being hit hardest by the pandemic. Whilst this is a general, across the board view, it does raise concerns that FM may soon have to tackle a skills shortage off the back of halting apprenticeships.

You might be thinking, “okay, let’s bring as many new apprentices in as we can. That will solve the issue. That is easier said than done.

Apprentices and internships are, without doubt, great for businesses such as ours looking to rebuild. But, as we’ve all heard time and again, circumstances have changed. According to the latest government figures, ‘higher’ apprentices – in other words, those coming in with a bit more experience than some of their predecessors – account for nearly a third of starts in the 2020/21 academic year. Similarly, intermediate apprentices account for around a quarter. Could this be the start of a shift towards slightly more experienced individuals taking up opportunities left open by apprentices having to end their placement early due to the pandemic?

Potentially, yes. But these figures also suggest that training and enhancing existing skills, such as leadership and management are of the utmost importance. As the FM sector starts to get back on its feet, attention should also turn towards making it resilient to cope with future challenges and giving those returning to the sector after furlough a clear progression path in the new world. At the same time, knowing what students hope to gain from a placement at the earliest possible opportunity – for example, at Nurture, we spend time with each new pupil to ascertain their career and personal goals and plan accordingly – ensures resource is deployed strategically.

The much-publicised monetary support offered to employers has helped at least one post-COVID hurdle feel more like a small speed bump rather than a mountain, yet one challenge does still remain – apprentices and interns may be hesitant about starting a placement having seen how quickly these were paused as the pandemic spread. They might also be asking themselves if there will even be a role for them at the end, either with their employer or elsewhere.

A report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) also raises the need for a “greater emphasis in building strong, transferable essential skills,” which are, for many apprentices, the reason they choose this particular route in the first place. The same report highlighted a worrying trend that employers across the board have been offering apprentices to workers already experienced and indeed qualified, meaning that younger people and those looking to gain entry into the labour market at a ‘grassroot’ level are being squeezed out.

Now that the ‘new normal’ is taking shape and restrictions lifted, FM, like most sectors, needs to be more resilient than the previous era. The impacts caused by losing employees and apprentices to furlough must serve as a wake-up call and start the process towards a future-proof FM landscape.

It is possibly too early to say for certain what the full extent of the COVID-19 impact is in internships and apprentices, but there are signs that they are coming back into employers’ minds. The widely renowned Bright Networks programme is set to resume from June and run through July, with 16 and 17-year olds eligible to apply for the first time. And with lockdown measures having been lifted, there is every opportunity for individual programmes to return.

There is still a fair way to go until internships and apprenticeships are fully back to normal, however the talent is certainly out there and ready to take advantage of any open opportunities.


Nurture has one full-time intern in place, a figure which will increase to three come September, and five apprentices working at our sites in Farnborough, Winnersh near Reading, and Chineham near Basingstoke. We also have four ‘adult learners’ with us – apprentices who are of a more mature age but who also have SEN requirements.

Each individual embarks on a gradual learning curve; we start with the basics of grounds maintenance and work our way up together. This helps the apprentice to get a full picture of the work we do for our clients and build their confidence over a period of time.

Studying the internationally-recognised RHS Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture our apprentices access a combination of practical modules, covering topics from preparing soil for planting to practical plant care. As our clients operate multi-acre sites, we also work towards helping our apprentices learning about the equipment we use, so that they can assist us in maintaining these sites when they are able to handle the tools safely.

By having such a renowned course on their CVs, our apprentices are in a strong position to go on to full employment. At a time when everyone is getting back up to speed, younger people, especially those with specific requirements, should not be denied their potential.

About Sarah OBeirne

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