Apprenticeships have always played a very important part in our business. They are at the core of our recruitment process and have been for over 100 years. Quite simply, we wouldn't be the business we are without our apprentices.
Traditionally we have put the majority of our apprentices through Apprenticeships in butchery. However, in October2013, faced with the situation of potentially losing a valued member of staff who wanted to go to college and do a diploma in HR, we decided to explore our opportunities and for the first time ever - since our establishment in 1885 - put someone on the Higher Apprenticeship in Human Resources, thanks to the Government's approval of the CIPD's introduction of the new framework.
This was a fantastic outcome for us and clearly a better alternative for everyone because it meant we got to keep our member of staff and she is now able to gain the qualifications she needs whilst retaining paid employment and pursuing her career.
Being a retail butchery and fine food business it is somewhat unusual that we even have an HR team, let alone an HR apprentice and some may argue that it is slightly over the top for a medium sized company, or even question the benefits it brings us.
However we see things differently. We recognise that the HR Apprenticeship programme complements the way we like to run our business, which is to put our staff first and invest time and money in their development. Additionally, having an HR apprentice means that more time is freed up at Director level enabling us focus on more strategic work such as marketing and new business development - something we've not been able to focus on for several years.
The benefits that Apprenticeships bring to our company are apparent on a daily basis.
We usually take people on at school leavers age so that we are able to mould them into the kind of employee we want them to be and give them a thorough understanding of the industry from day one.
We consider a holistic approach to training to be the best and therefore we focus on more than just on the job experience. In addition to daily tasks we carry out off the job experience for our apprentices. We run days out at our food academy in Dudley where we get them practising carcass butchery in our training centre, we take them to an abattoir as a lot of the new recruits have no idea where the meat comes from and we take them to farms so that the farmers can educate them about the benefits of free range meat.
Taking on apprentices allows us to develop their skills over a set amount of time meaning they mature into the business at a steady pace rather than rushing into positions that they or their colleagues are not comfortable with. The full process, which consists of completing the Intermediate Apprenticeship followed by the Advanced Apprenticeship, takes three to four years in total meaning that our apprentices will be about 19 or 20 years old before they hold supervisory positions such as senior butchers or assistant shop managers.
By employing apprentices we are able to keep our workforce young and eager. Because they join us at a young age, it means as they progress into shop managerial positions they may only be 25-30 and therefore still possess the youthful energy and ambition needed to work physically hard to keep things fresh and for driving our business forward. Levels of work ethic are also incredibly high amongst our apprentices and that has often come from thorough training over the years.
Our well-established Apprenticeship programme and relationship with training provider, Crosby Training, has also helped us raise the profile of our business within our own industry and others and over the years we have won competitions for our augmented Apprenticeship training process. It has even led to us training up young people from other businesses, such as butchers and other food businesses who have asked us to put their young people on our scheme or develop theirs.
When I joined Walter Smith back in 1998 with a background in education, I had big plans for our apprentices and as a result was heavily involved in formalising our Apprenticeship programme. 16 years on I'm thrilled to see there have been such tremendous developments at government level - such as the introduction of the Higher Apprenticeship in HR - and I look forward to expanding and developing new job opportunities for young people within our business whilst retaining our traditional recruitment method.