From Apprentice to Apprenticeship Boss

Hartlepool College of Further Education has appointed Gary Riches as Head of Apprenticeships, coming full circle after completing his award winning apprenticeship with the organisation over 18 years ago.

The College, which is ranked number one in the North East for apprenticeships, allowed Gary to start his career as an apprentice electrician in the year 2000, when he was employed by Tees Valley firm Gus Robinson Developments. His high performance for the local construction company were recognised with three consecutive apprentice of the year awards.

After four years, Gary progressed to a fully qualified electrical technician and two years later on to a project manager and electrical estimator before going on to manage the entire electrical department in just 10 years.

Gary said: “Around about that time the workload within my role was pretty tough. We’d been through the height of the recession so it wasn’t a great time for the industry. My wife and I were expecting twins so I knew I needed to revaluate and find something which would allow me to look after them and give me enough time to spend with my new family.

“There was an advertisement about an opportunity to be a lecturer of engineering at the College. I got in touch with a few of the people that taught me all those years ago to see if they thought I’d be a good fit for the job. They agreed, so I applied.

“It was a great feeling to come into the role because many of the people who I was working with taught me. I was welcomed straight away and everyone in the school had been supportive of me and got me through the trials of my first few years.”

As Head of Apprenticeships, Gary’s main task is to oversee the transition from apprenticeship frameworks to the new standards brought in with the introduction of the levy. He also manages all of the work based assessors that undertake progress reviews with apprentices in their workplace.

Gary said: “I also want to take the College towards higher education apprenticeships and in particular I will be looking at working alongside some of the brilliant higher education institutions in the region including Teesside University.

“I’m extremely passionate about apprenticeships because I’ve been there myself. Apprenticeships are an incredibly important option for learners. They allow people to get the crucial skills they need to work in a variety of industries and set learners up for the rest of their careers.

“With the new apprenticeship levy, it’s great that employers are able to take more charge of the apprenticeships they offer and hopefully this will see a much-needed influx of apprenticeships and apprentices, not only in our region but nationally.

“I think potential apprentices can see from my story that by taking the same route you’re not limiting yourself to one career path. There are numerous avenues available to them and many options to progress from their initial apprenticeship.”

Recently, Hartlepool College of Further Education has been rated as ‘Outstanding’ by OFSTED for its apprenticeship provision and has also been shortlisted in the Apprenticeship Programme of the Year category at the Times Education Supplement Further Education awards.