Jeremy Lewis: Why apprenticeships deserve our support
I KNEW we were in trouble when I swung the company Ford Anglia on to the petrol forecourt.
The chap in the overalls – garages could afford pump attendants in those days – recognised the vehicle and shook his head. My employer, he sneered, had run out of credit.
Times were tough. This was the recession of 1973-75 – admittedly a minor inconvenience compared with our current prolonged misery – yet folk still looked on the bright side.
Amid all the coal strikes and power cuts and fuel rises, political pundits doubted if petrol would get to £1 a gallon.
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A bounced garage cheque was the first sign that the my newspaper was going under.
The second came with a month's notice of redundancy for one Lewis J, trainee reporter, aged 22.
I could have jutted out my bottom lip and looked hurt, but I didn't.
My bosses would probably have preferred to elbow me earlier.
However they paid due regard to their contractual obligations and retained me until the end of my three-year apprenticeship.
At 22 years and seven months you take an Micawberish view of life.
Surely a job would turn up. I had an apprenticeship behind me and a nationally-accredited certificate to prove my professional worth.
As it happened, it took me another four months to find work but the process was eased by my background: the completed apprenticeship was taken very seriously; the accompanying certificate was about the only thing I have that is worth bunging in a frame and hanging on a well.
Actually, modesty has compelled me to keep it in a cardboard tube these past 38 years, but it surely makes better reading than my iffy GCSEs and my school swimming certificate.
So I commend the third in the Nottingham Post's series of annual campaigns to urge local commerce to give youth a chance and recruit 300 apprentices within 100 days.
Unlike 1973-75, the dispiriting downturn that has been with us since 2008 is having a brutalising effect on young people.
We have too many new graduates flipping burgers; too many teenage school-leavers flipping nothing at all.
It's not just a question of giving 300 young people a chance to acquire skills, identity and the foundations of a career.
It's an opportunity for employers to make a valuable but low-cost investment in their businesses.
From Day One, well-chosen recruits will have ambition, enthusiasm and adaptability.
Well managed and well taught, on the final day of their apprenticeships they will still have those qualities, and a whole heap of knowledge and experience, too.
Just the sort of seniors needed to take their company forward.
Of course, it's not always easy.
During my apprenticeship I was required not only to train on the job, but to do a fair bit of after-hours skivvying, and for a starting whack of £14 a week.
At the end of three years, however, I felt I'd had a decent deal; that I'd achieved something valuable.
I'd like to see 300 young people get the same feeling.