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November 29, 2021


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“Why wouldn’t you hire an apprentice?” Kevin Faulkner and how apprentices are setting new standards for fire and security

Kevin Faulkner, Head of the Banham Academy, offers his take on the new standards the FESS apprenticeship scheme is setting, the opportunities available to the sector, and challenges employers to ask themselves – why not? Why wouldn’t you hire an apprentice?

Setting the Standard

Kevin Faulkner, Banham Academy

In the new world of apprenticeships, employers are involved in designing standards that fit the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they require for their future workforce.

The first apprenticeship standards were delivered in 2014 and I was privileged to represent Banham and be part of the Trailblazer Employer Group that first met in 2015 and created the FESS Standard. Often such decisions can be made by individuals who don’t necessarily represent the sector, so it was a refreshing approach to have a mix of small, medium and large employers from the sector sitting around a table with a blank piece of paper deciding what they required the training to deliver – all with the sole interest to enhance their respective workforces and better the standard of the industry.

Today, the FESS Standard has become the foundation that defines competence at Level 3 for the fire and security sector. With this ability to measure skills and knowledge against such a strong standard, endorsed by many stakeholders in the industry, it is no surprise that professionalism and competence have moved forward to meet the aspirations of the industry and the technology requirements of the future.

Thanks to FESS, for the first time we are now seeing a new breed of qualified technicians that have undergone regulated assessment of their competency. We have a defined career progression route for the industry with skillsets not seen before and most importantly a minimum standard of competency for those that need to have their skills recognised without question.

FESS on the rise

As we are starting to live with the pandemic it will be interesting to see how the popularity of FESS continues to grow. It fared well at the height of the crisis when you compare the number of enrolments to other industries in the construction sector. Speaking with my colleagues at other training providers, it is clear that this academic year has seen a surge in interest from employers, which has turned into new enrolments.

“My question to employers who still remain on the fence is, would you not like to grow your own talented workforce, rather than rely on engineers who may be limited in their abilities and demanding high rates of pay?”

The Government incentive bonus of the extra £3k may have played a part in this and I was pleased to see this extended to the end of January 2022. More importantly, the feedback I receive from employers about their apprentices is that the quality of training and depth of knowledge received from undertaking the FESS Standard is making them an asset to their business. The fire and security pathway of FESS covers addressable/non-addressable fire systems, video surveillance, access control and intruder alarm security systems. This is producing a very rounded, multi-skilled technician at the other end.

There are between 1200-1500 apprentices currently on the FESS programme across England and this number will continue to increase. It is a drop in the ocean when you consider how many more technicians are needed in the sector, however it is a big step in the right direction.

Banham Academy – What makes us unique

We have a purpose-built academy building full of the latest fire and security equipment from manufacturers within the industry. This is used by the apprentices to hone their skills during their week-long block release sessions in our workshops. Practical and theory sessions blended together ensure that familiarity with the different systems is gained; we don’t want to churn out technicians that can only work on one type of system. Practical tests at the end of each year monitors apprentice progress in order to ensure they are ready to take on the end point assessment of knowledge and skills.

We value competition at the academy and look to stretch the capabilities of our apprentices at all times. The WorldSkills UK Finals for security systems apprentices took place in November and Banham Academy had five of the nine finalists representing us. The Engineers of Tomorrow fire competition also took place at the same time, where two of our apprentices were among the four finalists. Driving apprentices forward to achieve their potential is a key value of the academy.



Check out this year’s Engineers of Tomorrow and WorldSkills UK winners!

Having a good relationship with our employers is very important as we both strive towards a common goal of molding an apprentice into a technician. Having an e-portfolio system that is tailored towards the FESS Standard and accessed by apprentice and employer is beneficial to all parties as we can all monitor progress and identify any actions needed. We are about to hold our first employer online forum which gives the opportunity for them to ask questions and challenge us, and for us to gauge whether we need to make changes to our delivery that might give extra benefits to them.

As a preferred training provider for JIB we can access apprentice ECS Cards and once the apprenticeship is successfully completed, the ECS Gold Card for our employers. We can also apply for our apprentices to be accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), which allows them to use the letters Eng Tech TMIET after their names. We are the only training provider in our sector that have an approved apprenticeship scheme with the IET.

A challenge to employers

I am committed to encourage more employers to diversify and strengthen their workforces by employing apprentices. We have 40 employers across the sector that believe in the value of apprenticeships and trust Banham Academy to deliver their future talent.

My question to employers who still remain on the fence is, would you not like to grow your own talented workforce, rather than rely on engineers who may be limited in their abilities and demanding high rates of pay?

If the answer is yes, then I urge you to consider taking on apprentices and offering your customers the best skills the industry has to offer. In my personal opinion, a multi-skilled qualified Level 3 Fire, Emergency and Security Systems Technician can outperform many of the sector’s current workforce.

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