Virgin Media, ITV News, BDO & more on what it's really like to employ apprentices

How can offering Apprenticeships help your business?

Chris Starling, head of apprenticeships at Virgin Media and founder of their apprenticeship scheme in London

“Game-changing”

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

The first year we ran the Virgin Media Apprenticeship Scheme was in 2008 when we took on our first 50 apprentices.  This was following a pilot scheme that we ran elsewhere in the country the year before.  This was so successful we wanted to roll it out across the UK the following year.

What type of apprentice/s did you take on ?

Initially we offered intermediate apprenticeships covering residential installation and service.  We’ve since developed advanced and higher level schemes to meet both the demands of the business but also the desire of the apprentices to continue to develop - and we’ve recently expanded these into other areas of the business including administration and management apprenticeships.  We encourage more women to work in the telecoms sector as we have found they bring a new dimension to how we work and the service we offer our customers.

FACT PACK: Virgin Media Apprenticeships by numbers

116 apprentices graduating in 2014

785 apprentices have benefitted from the scheme since 2008

50 apprentices graduated in first year of the scheme in 2008

3 levels of apprenticeships: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher

4 types - Installation and Service, Network Engineer, Network Planning, Management

£12,500 starting salary for Intermediate apprentices

£17,000 starting salary for Advanced and Higher apprentices

7,500 completed applications for Virgin Media apprentices in 2013

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

It was really beneficial having a fresh set of eyes on the business from a new demographic.  This enabled us to look at what we were doing in a different way and helped us to revaluate what we were doing and how we were doing it. 

It forced us to ask the question of ‘why’ in a constructive manner, partly due to the apprentices’ honesty.  This is still the case to this day with the exciting digital futures we are currently engineering.

We have never had any issues with commitment or attendance – this has always been second to none.  Over the past 5 years our retention rate is significantly higher than any other entry route into these roles and around 70% of our apprentices are still with us after five years. 

How did you recruit your apprentice?

We recruit through a combination of work experience, interviews and assessment days where we are very honest with the candidates.  This ensures the apprentices are fully up to speed with what they are committing to whilst making sure they are a suitable fit to the Virgin Media family. 

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

The energy and drive that they bring and sharing their success when they graduate - I always feel a true sense of pride.

And the hardest?

Being prepared to change – although I believe we have always been very reactive and proactive with this.

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

Be brave and remember, if we don’t invest in tomorrow’s generation, how can we expect our businesses to grow and thrive.  It is an investment - not a tick box solution - that will bring good to businesses.  Virgin Media is living proof of that.

 

Robin Elias, managing editor, ITV News

Robin Elias

Robin is an ambassador of Dv8 Academy, a 16-19 school for excellence in creative, music and digital media courses.

“Having apprentices in the Newsroom can bring a fresh perspective and unique insight to what we do every day.”

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

Apprenticeships give us access to bright, passionate job seekers from backgrounds which are at present under-represented in our Newsrooms. News teams are more effective if they reflect the audience they are serving.

What type of apprentice/s did you take on?

We have taken on editorial apprentices for our on-line team working at ITN headquarters in London. We also look for technical apprentices to work alongside our camera teams.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

Apprentices can make as valuable a contribution to our news products as any other member of staff

How did you recruit your apprentice?

Through targeted recruiting, or through third-party organisations.

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

Giving someone their first break in the industry, and watching them grow in skills and confidence.

And the hardest?

Remembering that not everyone follows the conventional route into our profession.

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

Look on it as a positive experience that can benefit not only the apprentice, but also other members of you team.

Alana McCrosson, student recruitment manager, BDO LLP (accountancy and business advisory firm)

“BDO has been continually impressed by the high calibre of school leavers and are continuing to work towards a long-term goal of a 50% graduate and 50% school leaver student intake.”

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

The firm decided to create a formal school leaver programme in response to behaviour change following increases in university tuition fees. Upon recruiting the initial intake of 13 school leavers, we realised there was a hunger for an alternative to university from a number of ambitious school leavers who are keen to start their career straight from school. Due to the success of the school leavers we have recruited, we are looking to recruit more than 90 school leavers in 2014.

What type of apprentice/s did you take on?

We recruit trainee accountants into our audit, tax and advisory business streams across the UK, including London. School leavers take part in a five year programme which comprises of formal qualifications such as AAT, allowing them to become a fully qualified chartered accountant a year earlier than they would have done if they completed a three year degree followed by a three year graduate programme. Along with the formal qualifications, our school leavers complete the Higher National Apprenticeship and will achieve level seven by the end of the programme which is the same level as a degree.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

We have always aimed to treat school leavers the same as graduates: they work on the same clients and have the same responsibilities, meaning we assess school leavers against the same benchmarks and on the same assessment days as graduates. Once in the firm, we haven’t had to make many adjustments, although we are mindful that it may be their first real taste of working life so ensure that their induction includes all the information they need to settle into the routine of the office.

Feedback from both the business and clients has been incredibly positive and is often that you cannot differentiate between school leavers and graduates – hence why we manage them in the same way. The aim of the programme is to provide these students with the exact same long-term opportunities as a graduate, so from day one we work to treat them equally. So far, our retention rate of school leavers is similar to that of graduates. However, unlike with some graduates who can leave the firm after their three year training contract is completed, we have a five year commitment from school leavers; something our clients are particularly positive about.

How did you recruit your apprentice?

We have recruited our school leavers through a number of channels, most notably by engaging with local schools and colleges. While some schools have been resistant to engaging with us directly, many are approaching us and are looking to provide their students with information on all available routes into their chosen careers.

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

The school leavers we have recruited have been keen to learn, ambitious and have an infectious enthusiasm that has had a positive impact on the departments they work in.

And the hardest?

The hardest thing is still engaging with students while they are at school and making them aware of opportunities with the firm.

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

Do it! If you want to tap into another pool of enthusiastic, bright and proactive talent, you’d be mad not to consider looking at apprentices.

@BDOAccountant and @BDO_Trainees

 

John Phillips, operations director, Kier Harlow

“Working with apprentices is as rewarding for us as it is for the apprentices we recruit and support.”

Kier Harlow  is a joint venture partnership between Harlow Council and Kier to provide environmental services and repairs and maintenance to 10,000 homes and local authority buildings across Harlow. Harlow apprentice Elliot Shakeshaft was named Apprentice of the Year at our 2013 London Loves Excellence Awards

Elliot Shakeshaft, apprentice at Kier Harlow and Apprentice of the Year 2013 in our London Loves Excellence Awards

Elliot Shakeshaft, apprentice at Kier Harlow and Apprentice of the Year 2013 in our London Loves Excellence Awards

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

Kier Harlow is committed to giving back to the communities in which it works and one of the best ways of doing that is by supplying employment and training opportunities for young people. We value the roles of apprentices in our company and know it is important to support the next generation, especially as unemployment is high. Many people and companies underestimate the value of a trade apprenticeship but the physical results continue to show us we’re doing the right thing.

What type of apprentice/s do you take on?

Kier Harlow offers such a wide range of services, we take on apprentices in all kinds of trades, including plumbing, gas training, carpentry, mechanical and electrical. We work closely with local colleges to train apprentices on the job and offer support with their courses. Some apprentices have come to us with little knowledge and some have come with none at all, but we have the capacity to support apprentices at all levels and have seen many of them go on to great success.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

All of our apprentices are enthusiastic and keen to learn and we make sure we do everything we can to nurture that. We support them every step of the way but also allow them the freedom and responsibility to make important decisions and become a valued member of the team.

We have had apprentices go on to great success, including mechanical apprentice Elliot Shakeshaft, who was awarded the prestigious ‘Apprentice of the Year’ title at last year’s London Loves Excellence Awards. He was recognised for his part in maintaining a 100% MOT pass rate across Kier Harlow’s fleet of more than 200 vehicles, and working outside his remit helping to secure an £86m contract. We have taken on 21 apprentices to date, with seven going on to gain permanent employment and two more expected to.

How did you recruit your apprentice?

We work closely with local colleges and attend careers fairs to meet potential apprentices face to face, making sure the apprenticeships we offer work for them. Prospective apprentices attend interviews and meet the team before joining Kier Harlow, where we support them throughout their course.

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

The best thing about having an apprentice is having enthusiastic young people willing to work hard and unlock their potential.

And the hardest?

Not being able to take on more!

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s? (couple of bullet points or sentences)

·        Do it! It’s a great opportunity to invest in your community

·        Work closely with the school or college to establish solid, achievable targets based on each apprentice’s development – this will benefit both your company and the individual

·        Ensure apprentices are supported and understood to allow them to thrive

@kiergroup

 

Dhana Markanday, principal consultant, BPS World

“A rewarding, sometimes challenging experience but most of all we feel proud seeing the apprentices thrive.”

BPS World is a resourcing specialist with a difference, we believe in rethinking the world of resourcing to deliver a best in class service for our clients and candidates.

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

At BPS we believe in initiatives that support our local communities and one subject that is close to everyone’s hearts is the future of our young people. Currently, there is no official apprenticeship in the recruitment industry so we are working alongside REC to develop a structured programme which covers all aspects of the resourcing mix. Our Rising Stars programme is part of this development, championing young people’s futures and nurturing young talent into fully fledged consultants. 

What type of apprentice/s did you take on?

We look to utilise apprentices for all roles within our organisation – business intelligence, finance, HR, marketing, and resourcing.  Being a resourcing specialist, this is the area where we’ve taken on most apprentices. Generally, our apprentices are junior level looking for their first step on the career ladder, however we are open to applicants at all levels who may be looking for a career change. At the moment we have Jessica Beale who is 19 years old and came to us seeking a career in recruitment. She’s been with us for six months now and is doing amazingly well.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

Our recruitment process is stringent for all positions, including apprentices. We don’t just measure a candidate’s aptitude but their character as well, to ensure they are the right fit for our organisation today and in the future. Apprentices are our future stars so we provide the necessary support and a platform for them to thrive. Our apprentices have brought with them enthusiasm and exuberance. We have apprentices who have gone through the programme and progressed into senior roles, and at the other end of the scale, apprentices that are just starting out but finding their feet and flourishing. 

The BPS team

The BPS World team


How did you recruit your apprentice?

As resourcing specialists, who are passionate about our local community and helping them enter the world of work, recruiting apprentices is high on the agenda. We have forged excellent relationships with local colleges/universities, promoting our vacancies to their students and supporting student careers fairs.     

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

Watching someone grow and fulfil their potential.

And the hardest?

Recruitment is a challenging industry to learn, like many other professions. Providing the necessary consistent support, when there are so many other demands on your time, can be difficult in the early stages.   

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

Don’t see apprentices as a way of sourcing cheap labour, for an apprentice to be successful they will require significant investment in learning/training, but in the long term an apprentice is an investment for the future and the initial investment will be worth it.

Create a clear path for the apprentice, don’t just focus on the short term, what will they do after they have completed the programme? Do you have relevant, exciting opportunities? At BPS we make sure the apprentices have a clear career path outlined to them at the start of the programme and we manage expectations carefully.

@bps_world

 

James Kelliher, chairman & CEO, Whiteoaks

“The programme has resulted in a ‘win-win’ situation all round.”

Whiteoaks is a leading technology-focused PR, influencer relations and social media consultancy

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

Whiteoaks is currently running one of the first ever PR apprentice schemes, working in association with the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA). As ‘digital natives’ – part of a young generation that see the internet as an integral part of their daily lives – apprentices are able to contribute fresh ideas and an original perspective. A good number of Whiteoaks’ senior staff members joined the company as juniors with little or no experience and have been encouraged and developed through our structured in-house training. The Apprenticeship adds to this by also incorporating external training and a recognised vocational qualification.

What type of apprentice/s did you take on?

The apprentices studied one day a week for their Level 4 BTEC in Public Relations with Whiteoaks’ training provider, Creative Process. In addition to this formal training, they also take part in webinars and weekly lunchtime training sessions at Whiteoaks.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

Whiteoaks’ apprentices have brought significant business benefits. Two of the three worked alongside two senior digital specialists in a newly-formed digital team carrying out the monitoring, measurement and content creation pivotal to client campaigns. The third apprentice was part of one of Whiteoaks’ regular PR teams carrying out critical reporting and project management tasks, ensuring PR programmes are delivered according to key metrics agreed with clients.

They have all carried out tasks which are integral to Whiteoaks’ client programme delivery. They have enabled Whiteoaks to evolve and expand significantly its digital offering and their work has broken new ground in helping clients develop and measure the success of digital and social media strategies. As a result, campaigns in which the apprentices have played an integral role have been renewed or expanded. Together the three of them made an important contribution of around £0.5 million worth of business a year.

The business benefits have, therefore, exceeded the initial needs of the programme as the apprentices have helped Whiteoaks forge and develop new revenue channels and enhance its value to clients.

As for the future, Whiteoaks has already confirmed permanent roles with all three apprentices including salary increases and benefits package, and will continue to work with them on their own personal development plans.

How did you recruit your apprentice?

Whiteoaks’ first three apprentices started their Higher Apprenticeships in Public Relations in September 2012. The company was able to take advantage of an £1,500 government grant (AGE 16 to 24, the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers) to help cover some of the recruitment and training costs.

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

The energy, enthusiasm and fresh perspectives that the apprentices bring to the business.

And the hardest?

Don’t expect the finished article when taking on an apprentice – they need support, patience and training to achieve their potential.

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

Apprentices provide an excellent alternative to the traditional graduate recruitment channel.  They require significant training and support (particularly in the early days) but, if you select wisely, the payback is energetic and enthused people who can add considerable value to your business – both in the short-term and for many years to come.

@WhiteoaksPR

 

Andrew Mason, technical director and co-founder, RandomStorm

“Our apprentices have taken on board the work ethic, enthusiasm and can do attitude that epitomises RandomStorm and they have brought fresh energy, enthusiasm and ideas to the team.”

RandomStorm is an IT security company that provides scanning products and ethical hacking services that help companies to identify where they are vulnerable to losing customer data  or other digital assets through hacking or malware.

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

Information security requires a creative approach, so we have found that it works well to have a mixture of experienced security engineers, working alongside apprentices, who bring a fresh perspective to the problem solving required in our profession.

What type of apprentice/s did you take on?

RandomStorm offers work experience to school leavers and holiday placements to undergraduates and provides practical training to enable them to take up a career in the security profession.  We can always tell which apprentices are going to make it, because they start taking part in voluntary bug disclosure schemes in their own time. These schemes are run by large companies to “crowdsource” security, by inviting security experts to privately disclose security bugs, so that they can fix them before hackers or cyber criminals can exploit them.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

Hiring talented apprentices has worked really well for RandomStorm. One of our most recent apprentices, Scott Glossop, was recently named on the Google Hall of Fame;  the eBay “Wall of Fame” and the Viadeo Hall of Fame for his voluntary web security research and private disclosure of vulnerabilities.

One of Scott’s mentors was Ryan Dewhurst (@ethicalhack3r), who himself was taken on by RandomStorm while he was still an undergraduate, after I read and was impressed by his security blog. Ryan worked with us during his summer holidays and joined us full time as soon as he graduated. Ryan has also been named on numerous Walls of Fame and was recognised as a Rising Star in the Secure Computing Europe Awards 2013.

Ryan Dewhurst also developed the “Damned Vulnerable Web App” while he was an undergraduate. DVWA is a program that allows security professionals and undergraduates to learn about common website security flaws and hone their penetration testing skills, without breaking the Computer Misuse Act. RandomStorm sponsored DVWA through its Open Source Initiative and the free app has been downloaded thousands of times and is now used by IT security professionals around the world.

The founders of Randomstorm

The founders of Randomstorm

How did you recruit your apprentice?

I recruited Ryan Dewhurst after reading his information security blog, which he wrote to support his studies as an undergraduate of the Ethical Hacking for Computer Security degree at the University of Northumberland, Scott Glossop was offered an apprenticeship after proving his skills during his work experience placement with us.

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

Taking on apprentices, leading them by example and fostering the same passion for security that we all have, ensures that the next generation of security engineers have a solid grounding in the skills that keep private networks and public websites safer for all users.

And the hardest?

I guess the hardest thing would be having to say good bye to an apprentice that we’ve trained and who then decides to work somewhere else.

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

Don’t just look at paper qualifications such as GCSEs and degrees, try offering work placements so that you can see first-hand whether an apprentice has the right attitude and aptitude to benefit from your training, so that he or she can contribute to your business over the long term.

We can always tell which apprentices are going to make it, because they start taking part in voluntary bug disclosure schemes in their own time. These schemes are run by large companies to “crowdsource” security, by inviting security experts to privately disclose security bugs, so that they can fix them before the Black Hats can exploit them.

@RandomStorm

 

Ben Goode, partner and finance manager, LSI architects

“A hugely valuable experience for both the business and for our apprentices, where we can help them to learn and gain experience, and by so doing  they are making a genuine difference to our business.”

LSI architects is an award-winning architectural practice.

Why did you want to take on an apprentice/s?

We acknowledge that the gap between education and employment is widening, and it’s increasingly difficult for young people to make that step. As a business with strong values at its core, we felt we could play a role in closing the gap and offer young people a chance. We don’t believe in just having apprentices, we believed that we could help them learn and that they could become important members of our team; and they have not let us down.

What type of apprentice/s did you take on?

We have always aimed to give young, aspiring designers a chance to come and work with us for work experience or their ‘year out’, we currently have two employees, as a result of our commitment to this, who are completing their degrees on day-release in Chelmsford. It takes our employees years of training to be able to exhibit the skills required to produce the quality of output that LSI expects, and because of this we are especially proud that 10% of our staff are apprentices, who would otherwise have been NEET. All apprentices that we have taken on have been in support roles in our business; in our administration, IT and finance teams, and are vital to the business while not directly involved with production.

How did you find the experience of having an apprentice?

We are incredibly proud of our record of giving young people a chance and are seeing the benefits of this approach. All of the apprentices we have taken on have fitted in well because they have fantastic attitudes. They work incredibly hard, and are learning and improving all the time. We had no difficulties with their attitudes towards ‘work’, and have actually found their fresh energy and outlook to be inspiring. It has given our existing employees a morale boost to see we are doing our bit to tackle a societal problem. They have been more than happy to engage with and help our young apprentices; both by making them feel ‘at home’ and by passing on their knowledge and expertise. We do not view our apprentices as any less important than our full-time employees, and they are given work that is very real, albeit with all the support that they need. 10% of our staff are currently apprentices and have been with us for up to 8 months. While we have two students of architecture that have stayed on with us, no apprentices have as yet. However, given the impression they are making we foresee that this will change in the near future.

How did you recruit your apprentice?

One apprentice came through a personal connection, but the other three current apprentices have come through the direct.gov apprenticeships site.

What was the best thing about having an apprentice?

The best thing about having an apprentice is their enthusiasm, and willingness to learn and improve their skills; they bring a fresh energy and outlook to the workplace.

And the hardest?

Our workplace is extremely fast paced, finding time for apprentices can be a real challenge; but we are committed to making sure they are comfortable and have what they need and so will always find time whenever we can.

What advice would you give other employers thinking of taking on an apprentice/s?

·        It can be hard to find time to provide support for apprentices, but give them as much time and support as you possibly can and you will reap the benefits. They can make a genuine difference, don’t view them as just good PR or marketing opportunities.

·        Hire for attitude, train for skills. Skills are important but attitude is more important. We can help apprentices to learn skills, and pick up knowledge and experience, but you can not teach attitude.

@LSIarchitects

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Now read:

Charlie Mullins: I went from apprentice to running a multi-million-pound business, and others can too

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • I as a retiared engineer have always known the comments above, buit the govements from the 80' have run down engeering and wanted bankers, and now know that the whole country have been riped off.
    The people in govement have been under the spell of bankers which provide the campain money.
    WHAT FOOLS they were, but the old school boy network has brought this country to its knees.

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