Bay Breakfast Bytes serves up support for apprentices

Joseph Bulmer

Torbay Business Forum has been making sure businesses remain in touch and united during the pandemic thanks to a 'Breakfast Bytes' monthly virtual meeting working in collaboration with South Devon College.

Breakfast Bytes returned this week for its 20th edition - a special National Apprenticeship Week special, attended by around 60 local employers.

Hosted by Emily Tucker, Head of Apprenticeships and Employer Engagement at the college and Forum chairman Steve Reynolds, the webinar focused on the important role of apprentices in filling skills gaps and supporting business growth.

The hosts were joined by an impressive array of speakers:

  • Sharron Robbie MBE, Director, Devon and Cornwall Training Provider Network
  • Jim Parker – Editor Torbay Weekly and Editor-in-Chief Clear Sky Publishing
  • Jo Skeel – Careers Hub Manager and Strategic Lead
  • Sonam Sehemby – Specsavers Professional Audiology Development Manager

The event was sponsored by South Devon College and Smart Skills

Sharron Robbie gave some context of the current employment market and how apprenticeships can support growth:

She said: "Recruitment is a challenge. Locally, there are currently more roles than people. Brexit has had an impact but people are taking early retirement due to the pandemic – they’ve been working from home and may have decided not to return to work. We’re also seeing a lot of competition from other areas in the country. So how do we retain people? How do you build your workforce? Through an apprenticeship.

"Apprentices will work towards gaining knowledge skills and behaviours that will benefit you and your business. You can reduce your skills gap and tap into innovation.”

Sharron also reminded the audience of the funding options available for businesses of all sizes, particularly SMEs:

There is government funding if you want to recruit an apprentice. For SMEs, the government will pay 95 per cent of apprenticeship training. The college will support with recruitment, selection and access to funding.

Jo Skeel spoke about the importance of bridging the gap between schools and colleges and local employers:

She said: “We know that what we experience informs where we go. For young people, meeting employers and experiencing different workplaces is a key element in helping them find their best next step. Employers like you are vital to help bridge the gap between education and employment and there are lots of ways you can support young people and school leaders, provide personal development for your staff and identify new talent pipelines. Your skills and knowledge are crucial. Please get in touch if you want to get involved.”

Sonam Sehemby reflected on the benefits for employers and apprentices: "I’m the apprenticeship lead at Specsavers. We launched our hearing aid audiology apprenticeship programme in 2020.

"The apprenticeship programme has gone from strength to strength the benefits are amazing. You can give someone a career whatever their age – we’ve had so many people come across from the optical business in their 50s and 60s thinking they can’t change their career – the joy they’ve got from developing a new career path via an apprenticeship is amazing to see.

“Another benefit is that you can grow your own by employing someone at 16 and working from the ground up. If you think about people finishing school, not everyone wants to go to university and study for three or four years.

"Some people are practically minded. The apprenticeship programmes allow people to go into a work environment but study at the same time. This provides an opportunity that wouldn’t be available down the university route; it opens doors.”

Jim Parker spoke of the  new Torbay Story initiative which aims to unite sectors across the Bay and tell the outside what a wonderful place Torbay is to live and work to encourage investment leading to new jobs, including apprenticeships.

A recording of the Breakfast Bytes Apprenticeship Special is available to view via the Torbay Business Forum website. For more information on recruiting an apprentice for your business, contact