United Utilities apprenticeship programme gets ‘good’ Ofsted rating

Education and skills watchdog Ofsted has given the thumbs up to a North West water company’s apprenticeship programme.

After spending three intensive days with apprentices, tutors and managers, inspectors rated United Utilities’ further education training as ‘good’.

It’s the first time the water company’s apprenticeship programme has been inspected by Ofsted – the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. All organisations who deliver their own apprenticeship training using the Government’s new apprenticeship levy must be inspected in this way.

2018 graduates and apprentices

Inspectors were particularly impressed with the ‘unwavering’ commitment of leaders and managers and the ‘exceptional facilities and resources’ at United Utilities’ dedicated technical training centre, which opened at Bolton Wastewater Treatment Works in 2015.

Phil White, a former United Utilities’ apprentice and now Head of Learning and Development at the FTSE100 company, said Ofsted’s rating underlined the success of the programme and provided an assurance of quality for parents and young people when considering their career steps.

“As a comparison with other organisations, this puts us at the top of the tree when youngsters and parents are looking to see where to apply for an apprenticeship. It’s a great result,” he said.

Since launching its new apprenticeship scheme four years ago, United Utilities has earned multiple accolades. Last year the company was named Macro Employer of the Year by the National Apprenticeship Service and it is recognised as one of the UK’s Top 100 Apprentice Employers.

The company was also instrumental in developing a new standard for the role of Water Process Technician. Their first recruits to complete the new standard graduated this year and the first apprentice in the country to be awarded a distinction was a United Utilities apprentice.

This month, United Utilities welcomed 35 new apprentices onto three or four year courses offering a range of apprentice standards up to degree-level in many disciplines. Many are in technical fields, such as water process and engineering, but other subjects can be as diverse as laboratory, science and fleet administration.Another first this year is a new degree-level apprenticeship in Property Surveying.

Added Phil: “Our aim is to reach the top rating of ‘outstanding’ by 2020 and the Ofsted inspectors acknowledged that we are on that trajectory, and gave us some helpful pointers for where we can still improve. We have worked extremely hard, including bringing in the expertise of a quality specialist in commercial training.”

The investment in facilities and quality is a boost for the company’s other training programmes. The high quality developed in the apprenticeship programme has driven up quality in other internal training programmes too.

“We have a huge skills agenda and deliver tens of thousands of days of other training for our staff, not to mention supporting hundreds more in further education,” said Phil.

“Investing in new talent will give us the skills and leaders we need in the future. The water industry in the UK is going through a period of unprecedented change and we want to be right up there with the best.”