I am such a massive convert to the business value in Apprenticeships - I just want to shout about it and make more businesses realise the opportunity and see more young people realising their potential. It seems that finally more people are cottoning on to the value of being an apprentice, but we just need more businesses to take it on.
We started taking on apprentices in 2011 to coincide with a number of new contract wins and running some really successful schemes supporting the young and disadvantaged - the Job Centre Back to Work Scheme and Extended Work Experience Scheme.
As a grounds maintenance company, we are no doubt seen as a 'traditional' employer for apprentices - but we don't just take on apprentices in the field of horticulture, we have a number supporting us on the business administration side too. Apprenticeships suit us perfectly because the ethos of the company is to promote internally and to essentially grow and develop our own managers from the ground up. Maybe it's the gardening link that gives us this mindset? A testament to this philosophy is our long service awards, over 60 have been achieved by our employees for 10, 20 and 30 years of service.
I really believe we can get our next generation of managers via our Apprenticeship programme and as such we take on a minimum of five Apprentices every year. The progression opportunities are limitless, we have employees who started out on the ground as operatives and are now Regional, Fleet and Contract Managers.
We hold a recruitment day each year to select our new Apprenticeship team. Around 20 people will apply for the event, 15 will turn up and around seven or eight will pursue their application. I want to see that people have an interest in gardening and that they love being outdoors. This often stems from parents or from schools or gardening clubs. It is important to have an open mind about all candidates and use your heart as well as your heads when recruiting. Someone that is perfect on paper may not necessarily have the confidence and skills to excel and someone who may not have excellent written skills can really flourish with support. We believe in equal opportunities for all and the potential for people from all ages and backgrounds to progress with the right training and support.
We currently take on 16-25-year-olds, initially offering a Level 2 Apprenticeship in Amenity Horticulture and Business Administration and then encouraging progression onto Level 3. The Apprentices will work on gardening, sports grounds, playgrounds, grass cutting, landscaping and streetscape work. Once our trainees have finished that stage, we'll be looking for them to progress to level-four courses - about the equivalent of a foundation degree and I am confident that the new entrants will be taking supervisory roles by the time they are 25.
Our Apprenticeship programme has brought increased efficiencies and improved staff performance and motivation levels. Our clients have been delighted with the enthusiastic apprentices and the opportunities the programme brings. It also feels great to give back to the community and really make a difference in someone's life. Our Managing Director is so pleased with the success he promotes Apprentices by volunteering as an Ambassador and conducts presentations promoting apprentices at Business Networking Events.
The business has further benefited from the scheme by seeing an increase in employees requesting NVQ training by being positively influenced and encouraged by the apprentices. The management requirements of the scheme has also provided opportunities for our existing staff by creating new supervisor and management roles. So really Apprenticeships provide a continuous circle of opportunities for all our staff.
I would advise other companies looking to recruit apprentices to build up strong links with their training provider, in our case we work with Capel Manor College, KEITS and Birmingham Tech College. This support will really benefit both the company and the apprentices to realise the potential of learning while working.
The apprentice programme has been extremely successful for us and we have been lucky enough to have achieved the prestigious 'Apprenticeships Highly Commended Apprenticeship Newcomer Employer of the Year 2013 Award' for the Central Eastern Region. We took along one of our apprentices, Benedict, to the esteemed awards ceremony in Cambridge this month. He was blown away by the calibre of Apprenticeship winners and is now working towards entering 'Apprentice of the Year' for 2014 with our full support.