What are the advantages of apprenticeships in the fire sector?

Share this content


Rachel Willis, Apprenticeship Manager at Xact outlines the significance of apprenticeships in the fire sector, focusing on skill development and the transition to competency

Apprenticeships are a key entry point for skill development and workforce rejuvenation in the fire safety.

In her role as Apprenticeship Manager at Xact, Rachel Willis contributes significantly to addressing the challenges within the fire sector.

Her collaborative efforts with employer-led Trailblazer groups have paved the way for the establishment of new apprenticeship frameworks at Xact, ensuring that the next generation of fire safety professionals are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills required for the future.

Apprenticeships vs qualifications

“The key difference between pursuing a fire safety apprenticeship and obtaining a qualification is the emphasis on proving competence,” says Willis.

The apprenticeships at Xact, developed by employer-led Trailblazer groups, are designed to ensure that apprentices are fully capable of performing their roles competently and professionally upon completion.

These programs, she says, align closely with the NFCC competency framework, which stipulates that apprentices who complete their training are deemed competent to conduct audits or inspections at their respective levels without needing support or supervision.

In contrast, a standalone qualification primarily offers knowledge without requiring the learner to demonstrate practical competence.

“Our apprenticeships require apprentices to compile a portfolio of evidence throughout their training,” she tells.

“This portfolio must not only contain evidence of their work but also demonstrate that it is genuinely their own.

“Additionally, apprentices are assessed independently, which includes being observed while conducting audits or inspections relevant to their level of training.”

Xact works closely with Trailblazer groups, striving to ensure that its apprenticeships cater to all roles within the broader fire safety sector, not just the fire service.

This inclusivity, she says, acknowledges the diversity of the sector, adding: “Our tutors are subject matter experts who provide bespoke one-on-one support, and our mentoring system throughout the apprenticeship offers guidance on demonstrating competence in the workplace and other professional advice.”

Keeping up with change

Xact maintains a dedicated development team that is actively engaged with the fire safety sector in several significant ways, says Willis.

“Our involvement includes participation in Trailblazer groups and contributions to discussions about potential regulation in fire safety,” she notes.

“We also play a proactive role in the periodic reviews of qualifications, collaborating with awarding bodies to ensure these qualifications meet current industry standards.

“Our team prioritises continuous professional development and remains actively involved in the wider industry.

“This engagement positions us optimally to provide informed guidance, support, and training tailored to emerging trends and requirements in the fire safety field.”

Navigating the industry

Xact is positioned to facilitate career progression within the fire safety and engineering sector, offering courses from Level 2 to Level 5.

Its introductory courses, such as the Level 2 Award in Carrying Out Fire Safety Checks and the Level 3 Award in Fire Safety Management, provide a solid foundation for those starting a career in fire safety, equipping them with essential knowledge.

Its apprenticeship pathway supports both upskilling existing professionals and introducing new entrants to the industry.

“Both our Level 3 and Level 4 apprenticeships are designed to be accessible with no prior eligibility criteria, allowing individuals to start with no previous knowledge,” tells Willis.

“Those who have completed the Level 3 programme receive credit towards the Level 4 apprenticeship, reducing its duration by four months.”

Upon completion of their apprenticeships, individuals can pursue professional memberships, such as technical membership of the Institution of Fire Engineers or associate membership, depending on their qualification level.

Xact’s apprenticeships include a training record that aligns with CPD requirements, ensuring that by the end of their training, apprentices have sufficient CPD hours to apply for professional recognition.

Willis believe that the focus on apprenticeships has broadened awareness about the range of roles available in the fire safety sector: “For public sector organisations, apprenticeships play a crucial role in retaining talent.

We’ve seen seasoned firefighters transition to fire safety roles, extending their careers and applying their valuable skills and experience in new ways.”

Apprenticeships, she says, facilitate this retraining, with funding available to cover training costs, thereby alleviating financial pressures on limited training budgets.

She also highlights the housing sector as emerging growth area for Xact’s apprenticeships: “We’ve seen individuals previously involved in tenant support services, such as managing repairs, who have developed an interest in fire safety related to housing.

“This shift illustrates how apprenticeships can open up new professional pathways and contribute significantly to both individual career development and the broader industry.”

All of Xact’s qualifications are awarded by SFJ Awards and align with the National Occupational Standards for fire investigation and enforcement.

The development and alignment of its apprenticeships with these standards are overseen by the Trailblazer group, which works closely with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).

The NFCC plays a leading role in most of these Trailblazer groups, ensuring that our apprenticeships not only meet the national competency frameworks but also adhere to the relevant regulatory frameworks.

Promoting inclusivity

Willis says that for Xact, supporting diverse learning needs is a priority, particularly for learners with neurodiversity and other specific requirements: “We accommodate these needs through various reasonable adjustments.

“For apprentices who are neurodiverse, we provide early access to course materials, supply copies of PowerPoint presentations to aid note-taking, offer extra time for assessments, and provide additional mentoring support.”

Xact’s flexibility extends beyond neurodiversity support.

For those working part-time, it offers extended programs to ensure they do not face undue pressure from balancing work and study.

Recognising that apprenticeships can span several years, Xact allows for apprentices to take breaks in learning.

Where to start

On what advice she would give to someone considering an apprenticeship in fire safety, Willis says: “Regardless of the age of the prospective apprentice, it’s crucial to thoroughly understand both the apprenticeship and the role you are considering.

“A valuable first step is to shadow someone already in the field or at least have a conversation with someone who performs the job.

“This experience provides insight into the realities of the role, which may include lone working and handling confrontations that can arise from enforcing fire safety improvements in buildings.

“Once you have a good understanding of the job, the next crucial step is to ensure you have robust support in place during your apprenticeship.

“Apprenticeships are a three-way partnership involving the apprentice, the employer, and the training provider.

“It is vital to have a supportive line manager or workplace mentor who understands the role deeply and can guide you effectively.

“They should be willing to take you on visits, explain their actions, and provide the reasoning behind their decisions.

“This type of support is essential for a successful apprenticeship experience in fire safety and engineering.”

This article was originally published in the May 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

Edit: A previous version of this article listed ‘Skills for Justice Awards’ rather than ‘SFJ Awards‘.

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox