06/09/2013 07:53 BST | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 GMT

Apprenticeships Are Not Just for School Leavers

I do get frustrated when I talk to people about our Apprenticeship Programme at the care home I run and people automatically assume a lower level of care from very young apprentices. These assumptions couldn't be further from the truth.

I do get frustrated when I talk to people about our Apprenticeship Programme at the care home I run and people automatically assume a lower level of care from very young apprentices.

These assumptions couldn't be further from the truth. In 2004 we made a conscious decision to develop our own staff via the Apprenticeship route to address quality staffing and recruitment shortfalls. To date we have developed 25 apprentices of all ages. Not just 18 year olds.

Current and former apprentices (age range 16- 58 years), have provided us with raw talent, which we have consistently nurtured and developed into highly dedicated and loyal individuals, with the knowledge and skills to meet and address current business challenges and future opportunities. I am proud that 76% of our team of 28 staff now employed are either current or former apprentices. We are also proud of our unsurpassed record that 100% of our apprentices completed their Apprenticeship and were retained after doing so and to date, 97% of them are still employed by the company.

We have not always recruited "safe bets" but take great satisfaction and pride in helping apprentices overcome perceived barriers to learning, such as age and lack of previous experience as we believe what is important is being given an opportunity and a desire to learn. It's hard to define what makes a great care worker just in black and white recruitment terms - as there are wider factors that make a real difference - such as personality, passion and a genuine interest in the work - this being underpinned by an effective recruitment and selection procedure.

This is one of the reasons I think the Apprenticeship programme works so well - and the fact that we have a broader view about the age of our apprentices.

I believe that any service-related industry needs employees of mixed ages to address and empathise with the individual needs and expectations of our customers. Our experiences have shown that older apprentices bring a lifetime of personal skills, most of which are transferable and of benefit to the sector.

Whilst our residents enjoy being cared for by our younger apprentices some have a preference for certain aspects of their personal care to be delivered by someone who is more mature and perhaps more in alignment with their own personal values and beliefs.

Another benefit to the business has been the fact that older apprentices have acted as 'mentors' to many of the younger apprentices. As a result they often accept the advice of a mature work colleague more easily than they might from their own parents, even if they might be conveying the same message.

When we started the Apprenticeship programme in 2004, we did have a leaning to older, more experienced apprentices, valuing their life experience - including experience of care in both a commercial and personal setting. However, in September 2012 we recruited our first youth apprentice thereby providing opportunities for staff across a wider age range.

By developing our staff through Apprenticeships we have developed a highly dedicated, passionate, loyal and committed workforce with the knowledge, skills and desire to consistently deliver a quality service to each of our residents. Not only have apprentices successfully completed their Apprenticeships at all levels (Intermediate, Advanced and Higher), many have progressed to supervisory and management roles and we have also used the initiative to deliver specialist training so we can support our residents with procedures not normally carried out by residential care staff (e.g. Defibrillator ad Oxygen Therapy). As a result we have been able to provide immediate responses in emergency situations, which has helped minimise trauma, and promotes recovery in critical health situations. We have also been able to offer extended skills thanks to our apprentices of all ages - such as End of life care, Stroke Prevention and Dementia Care which ensures residents end their days "in their home" reducing the number of hospital admissions and reducing the demands on our local GPs, District Nurses and Ambulance Service.

For many years we have gained regional and national recognition and our staff have consistently delivered quality care to meet the individual needs of each resident. We've been selected as a finalist in the prestigious National Apprenticeship Awards on four occasions in the past five years, winning the ultimate accolade in 2009, and are hoping for further success again this year. Our apprentice programme has earned us a national reputation as an exemplar employer and service provider and our other accolades include Best Care Business Shropshire 2009, 2011, 2012.

The Apprenticeship initiative may only be one piece of the jigsaw portraying the picture of our success, but we believe that the Apprenticeship approach to training and supporting staff has been without doubt the most important factor to our success. So much so, that we have made a corporate decision to recruit all future employees through the Apprenticeship route wherever possible in the future.

What are the benefits? Quite simply managing a business successful in all aspects of its operation, delivered by a highly motivated, committed and loyal workforce who bring about significant changes and enhancements to the lives of those who in many cases are unable to make the changes themselves....a priceless commodity.