After leaving education at 17, I initially worked in financial services before getting itchy feet and joining the Royal Air Force as an RAF Regiment Gunner. It was a great experience including three active service tours, as well as being trained in jungle and Artic survival, combat medic and Para training.
After 7 years I fancied something new and had a big career change, starting a new profession in recruitment before setting up a recruitment business in 2001. In 2009, we developed The Apprentice Academy, which specialises in business and digital marketing apprenticeships. We are about to start on a new venture which is a social enterprise aimed at engaging with young people in the community.
Tell us about a usual working day?
I prefer to start the day early as my brain tends to be more active in the morning. My days are really varied. I tend to split my week up into business ops on a Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesdays I meet with customers and apprentices, and on Thursdays I work on our new social enterprise. On Fridays I tend to have meetings relating to new projects. The week rarely plays out so smoothly, but it gives me structure.
What’s The Apprentice Academy’s proudest achievement?
I would find it hard to identify one thing. It would certainly include the journey of The Apprentice Academy and our team, starting from scratch, moving from a recruitment business into an apprenticeship provider. It is also seeing the brilliant stories of the apprentices achieving real success in their careers. I hope I will look back in a few years and take pride from the work we are currently doing to help young people caught in the youth unemployment trap.
Can you provide an overview of the Apprentice Academy scheme?
We offer 2 types of programmes including Business Apprenticeships and our latest programme which is Social Media and Digital Marketing focused. Our organisation is primarily focused on the apprentices; however we also direct services towards supporting the employers. This includes enhanced recruitment services, as well as supporting with education to workplace transition, together with apprentice manager training and pro-active support.
It’s concerning to read the frequent reports on youth unemployment and the lack of clear career development for young workers. What’s your opinion – should we be worried?
I believe that if you are successful within education, whether at GCSE, A Level or Degree, you will generally be okay.
The biggest challenges out there is for young people who haven’t had a great journey through education, often as a result of instability in their lives. It’s a real shame because, when they reach a certain level of maturity, many want to turn their lives around, yet this can be a real challenge once they are out of the education system. I believe this means we are missing out on lost talent, simply because they didn’t achieve their grades in education.
What do you make of David Cameron’s pledge to create 3million new apprenticeship jobs – is it simply political posturing or genuine?
I believe it is genuine. Apprenticeships are moving up the political agenda and are starting to be seen as a credible alternative to university. I personally believe that both apprenticeships and university education are needed. However it is crucial that apprenticeships are seen on equal footing. I was recently with a customer that has 14 apprentices working in IT project management, including some who have spent time working in different parts of the UK, as well as Europe. I don’t think these are roles that many people traditionally associate with apprenticeships.
And is the creation of 3 million apprenticeships beneficial in the long term, as a career stepping stone, for many of the young workers hoping to escape low-paid jobs?
In general I would say yes. There is a new breed of apprenticeship being developed in career sectors such as digital, technology, project management, accounting, financial services and human resources, to name a few. You also have the continued growth in engineering roles with apprentices working for organisations such as BAE or Jaguar. The general demand, however, is for young people who have succeeded in education, and it is important we support capable young people who didn’t fit into the traditional education mould.
What’s your advice to businesses thinking about taking on apprentices?
Apprenticeships provide a great way to develop grassroots talent. Apprentices themselves have a lot of potential, although their managers or mentors must take into consideration that this might be their first role and therefore it is important to create an environment in which they will thrive and succeed. We all started as a trainee, even if this wasn’t our official title, so it is important to step into their shoes and look at it from their perspective. Things like ‘onboarding’ is essential , including a clear job spec, an organised training plan including induction, assigning a ‘go to’ buddy, setting clear expectations of the role and conducting regular performance reviews. If you get the basics right, then you will help them to succeed much quicker.
What makes you optimistic?
The potential of young people. Sometimes blips do happen as they make the transition into the world of work, but for the vast majority, once they find their feet, we are proud to witness their brilliant journeys as they reach their full potential. I love it when I get things like an ‘out of office’ email from an Apprentice saying they are in Demark working on an IT Implementation Project or the Boss of a £100m turnover company tweeting out how well the apprentices are doing! We all once started as a trainee and needed that first opportunity. If you believe in young people (and provide the right environment) you will generally see them shine.
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