A year ago we established a relationship with Islington Academy with a view to setting up an apprentice scheme within AAT. Our motives were twofold: firstly we wanted to give something back to the local community (as a registered charity we are restricted from donating to other charities), and secondly we wanted to explore growing our own talent from school leaver age. We work with numerous employers that implement successful apprenticeship programmes and therefore knew the benefits a well-structured apprenticeship programme could bring. We naturally had a few hiccups along the way but one year on, we are very pleased with how successful it has been.
A core value of AAT is that we are open to everyone and we wanted to reflect this in our apprentice scheme. Therefore we did not have minimum education requirements on the scheme. Initially this did make us nervous in terms of the calibre of candidates that might apply. However, rigorous interview processes helped us find the candidates that we thought would mould best to AAT life. Looking back, we're pleased we invested a lot of time in the interview process as it enabled us to have a good understanding of each apprentice, their personalities and, more importantly, their skills and capabilities.
The interview process started with an open day at the AAT head office. This was a nice informal way to meet all the candidates and for them to meet us. Those that then chose to apply were supported through the school in completing their applications. From the pool of applicants, we were able to whittle the shortlist down to eight potential apprentices. Those who were shortlisted were invited to complete an occupational personality questionnaire (OPQ) and then attend an assessment day which involved an interview, a group exercise and a discussion around their skill sets including what qualities they think they could bring to the AAT. Through this rigorous process, we found three fantastic candidates who all accepted and joined us at AAT on our first apprenticeship programme.
The three successful candidates started with us in September. We understood that starting full time work might be a bit of a culture shock for them; adjusting from college to working a full five day week. We knew that time management, utilising interpersonal skills and managing workloads may cause a few glitches and naturally it took a while for them to settle into working life.
During the first three months, the apprentices were rotated through each different division within the organisation. This was to give them a firm understanding of each team's role and would allow them to decide areas of work they liked and areas of work which were less suited to them. After the three months, they were placed in teams in which there was demand for resource as well as each apprentice showing enthusiasm to work within that team. While they were gaining invaluable work experience - they also were working towards an NVQ in business administration.
Once they settled into a team we noticed massive improvements in their work as they were given projects to own and took on more responsibility. We were astounded by their commitment and dedication towards their teams, their studies and to AAT as a whole.
We put a mentoring scheme into practice from day one. Each apprentice was matched to a mentor with whom they met regularly to have informal chats, giving the apprentices extra support should they have any issues, concerns or thoughts on life at AAT. The mentoring scheme not only provided huge benefits to the apprentices, but AAT as an organisation. We were able to learn through the mentors of what we needed to do to ensure that the apprentices were getting a varied work load and the most out of their first year apprenticeship. We also ensured to get regular feedback from their tutors at college to ensure they were on track with their qualification and managing their time effectively.
The change in all three apprentices has been considerable, from being somewhat reserved and nervous, to being confident in their abilities having developed a broad range of experience and knowledge from across the business. We've got far more out of the scheme than imagined and two of the three are continuing with a second year apprenticeship specialising in specific areas. We also plan to take on two more apprentices this year using the same in-depth recruitment process as before. This time, we'll have the added bonus of our current apprentices being able to tell their former peers about the benefits of the scheme and what they have got out of it.
Ayman Mostafa, ICT support analyst and AAT apprentice, commented: "The amount I have gained over the past year at AAT really is countless. As an apprentice, I was fortunate to get exposure to the whole of the AAT organisation allowing me to find which areas were suited to me and which were not. I am very pleased that I took on this apprenticeship as it has increased my knowledge and confidence as well as made me aware of what career path I would like to take in life. During my apprenticeship, I have completed four successful projects which will look impressive on my CV and I have earned an NVQ which will boost my employability status. Now I am currently working in ICT as first line support dealing with a mixture of behind the screen and hands on work for AAT."