There was a time in my career when I had a ‘downer’ on apprenticeships, which was counter-intuitive because when I left school, I did a four-year Ministry of Defence apprenticeship. I’d become stuck in a rut, thinking that modern apprenticeships were not ‘real’ apprenticeships and they were more trouble than they were worth, so I never really got on board with the opportunities they offer… I definitely missed a trick.
My apprenticeship was ‘old style’, among an annual intake of 24 newbies, with the first two years spent in a training centre followed by eight specialist placements. It was fabulous – it gave me wonderful opportunities and an outlook that has helped me in many ways ever since.
I sometimes wonder how I got to where I have and the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’ sometimes gets the better of me. But I’m now certain that the things I learned, many of them subconsciously, gave me a confidence that I hadn’t fully appreciated nor directly attributed to my apprenticeship until now.
When I joined Vivid Homes, we’d just taken on an apprentice. As I watched him progress, I became more interested in how the apprenticeship was structured, the college work he was doing and how things worked with his manager.
My scepticism began to wane as I watched his personal growth and I spotted that his manager was gaining from the experience as well. Of course, there were some trials and tribulations along the way for all concerned; it’s not always easy and there has to be commitment on all sides, so sometimes there needs to be a dogged determination to nurture people and go the extra mile to help make things successful. But with the right culture and support we reaped the benefits. He overcame adversity and completed his apprenticeship a year ago.
We offered him a trainee role and he is now about to become a fully-fledged member of our team. We’ve seen him grow from being a shy, introverted and anxious apprentice to a high-performing young IT professional with an amazing dedication and a strong and robust set of values and behaviours that will set him up for the rest of his life.
We now have two apprentices, one specialising in low-code software development and the other in business administration. They’re doing very well and their managers are enjoying the challenges and experiences of nurturing our new talent. The apprentices are fully integrated into our team and do real work that adds value to our entire team; they aren’t mere ‘make-weights’.
I believe in creating an environment where everyone can do some of the best work of their lives – creating the opportunities within our team for apprentices and trainees benefits everyone. Other team members are directly involved in their training and professional development and that in itself is beneficial to both.
Take our low-code developer as an example – now in the second year of his apprenticeship, his line manager will be one of our senior developers, who in turn will progress and become a line manager. It’s like a five-way accumulator – apprentice, manager, team member, department and entire organisation. Everyone’s a winner.
This doesn’t all happen by chance. It’s the kind of thing that, to use a cliché, has to be driven from the top. As the leader of our IT team, my role is to champion apprenticeships and support everyone involved. I maintain regular contact with our managers and our apprentices and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help everyone achieve great things. There have been times when I’ve had to get involved although I’d have preferred not to, but sometimes strong and clear leadership helps everyone focus on the important things and that has included the apprentice training providers.
Both strategically and tactically, apprentices and traineeships are a fantastic way to nurture the skills needed in your team. After all, why would any organisation support a successful apprentice and not keep them on?
And an apprentice is very good value; my experience is that the time, effort and energy it takes to support an apprentice easily pays off over the duration of the apprenticeship. The contributions they can make are, proportionally, no different to those of a new starter who needs time to learn the ropes in a new organisation and a new role.
As a measure of our successes, 20 per cent of our team comprises current or former apprentices or trainees and all of them have stayed with us. That’s an impressive achievement for everyone involved and demonstrates our commitment to our people.
Vivid Homes is big on personal growth and I underestimated the opportunities apprenticeships bring for everyone. What I’ve seen in our managers is considerable pride in our apprentices’ achievements and the determination I mentioned earlier coming to the fore; all of our managers who’ve looked after our apprentices are definitely better managers as a result.
We’ve had some challenges along the way, and at times our managers have needed some help too. Having used three different apprenticeship organisations, they’ve all ‘talked the talk’ but haven’t always ‘walked the walk’. We have an apprenticeships expert in our HR team and their help and advice has been invaluable. As a team, we’ve worked hard to ensure everyone is doing what they should, when they should and as well as they should.
Providing bright futures is something we’re passionate about at Vivid Homes. We’re a large company with lots of employees across the south of England, yet we’ve maintained strong connections with our local communities. We believe it’s our responsibility to support our young people in gaining the fundamental skills and experience to help boost their prospects and chances in life; so far, we’ve offered apprenticeships across our various trade disciplines, finance, HR and IT.
For me, the most important thing in all of this is the opportunities we’ve given and are continuing to give our IT apprentices and trainees. I’m immensely proud of what they have achieved and look forward to watching their LinkedIn profiles long after I’ve retired.
Mark Wilson is the head of IT at Vivid Homes.