Published on January 13th, 2014 | by Alice Murray
Apprenticeships: A better alternative
The number of 16-24 year olds without work has remained at a near constant throughout 2013, with nearly one million young people unemployed. The numbers are worrying, but the problem goes far beyond the figures; not only are young people in the UK struggling to find work, they are missing out on gaining crucial experience and in many cases feel there is no place for them in working Britain.
It is against this backdrop that the government set up initiatives to help both young people and employers. The recently introduced apprenticeship scheme enables over-16s to work alongside experienced people, gain skills, earn a wage and best of all, achieve a recognised qualification.
The most notable users of the scheme so far have been large corporations such as Barclays, Network Rail, Unilever, GSK, British Gas and Virgin Media. However, the prospect of starting out in a new working environment with little to no previous experience is understandably daunting for young people. Therefore, smaller, younger, more entrepreneurial companies are arguably much more nurturing environments for those trying to break into the world of employment.
A shining example of how mutually beneficial the apprenticeship scheme can be, for both employee and employer is 10-year old events company Chillisauce. Just one year ago the business decided to take on 14 young people, many of which lacked qualifications or previous experience. This was a jump into the unknown for Chillisauce having up until then only employed those with degrees and former experience. However, the ambitious company, not afraid of trying something different and keen to be a positive influence in the current brutal job market hired 14 people aged 18 to 21 with only a handful of GSCEs under their belts and little to no previous work experience.
Once on board the new recruits were put into a newly created division of the company dubbed ‘The Wildcards’. Headed up by one of the Chillisauce most successful sales persons, Lola-Rose Maxwell, Sales Performance Manager, the team embarked on a one-year insensitive training programme. Over the course of the next 12 months, the new hires received personal and group training to learn how to successfully and effectively sell activity weekends for hens and stags.
The training not only gave the apprentices the tools to sell over the phone, but also enabled them to feel confident in what they were selling through ‘familiarisation trips’ (dubbed ‘fam trips’ by Chillisaucers). Throughout the year the team travelled to various popular hen and stag destinations across the UK and Europe, including Newcastle, Manchester, Krakow, and Budapest. By going out and meeting suppliers in the respective destinations, as well as experiencing the weekends themselves, the Wildcards gained a deep understanding of their product.
Says one Wildcard, Elliot Georgiou: “The best experience I’ve had so far has been going out on the fam trips; I went to Budapest. It’s definitely a massive perk to the job. From going out to the different places, I can pass that experience on to the customers and you really get to know what you’re selling.”
One year later and the programme has clearly been an overwhelming success. Of the 14 taken on, seven have been appointed full time executive positions at Chillisauce thanks to their impressive sales figures and commitment to the company. In the last 12 months the apprentices have organised events for over 14,000 people. One of the most successful candidates has been Sophia Jirari. After finishing her A Levels, Sophia realised that university might not be the best route to her future career: “Originally I wanted to be a teacher. I started going through the UCAS application process but was really put off by the fees. Also, a few of my friends that were already at uni didn’t seem to be enjoying it.”
Sophia raises a key issue mentioned by the majority of the apprentices; many young people assume university is the best or only option after leaving school, however in reality, the soaring fees without guaranteed employment once finished means that under-21s today must think more carefully about their options. The Wildcards all seem confident that undertaking an apprenticeship has already put them in a far stronger position compared to their peers: “My friends have gone to uni and see what I’m doing and now they’re thinking about dropping out and doing an apprenticeship instead,” says Sophia. “When I compare myself to my friends at uni, or even other people at Chillisauce I’m so glad that I’m only 20, earning money with a year’s worth of experience and a qualification, without any debt,” adds Will Gleeson, another Wildcard team member.
Since joining Chillisauce, Sofia has realised her ability in sales: “I didn’t think I would be good at selling and I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed it and how well I got on with it. I feel confident about my sales ability now and I want to stay on at Chillisauce to see how far I can go. Over the next 5-10 years I will definitely stay in sales. I didn’t realise I could sell – I think it was a hidden talent!”
But what of the other seven, who haven’t been offered full-time positions? Chillisauce’s entire work force took an active role in ensuring they secured another job before leaving. Personal and tailored career advice was given to each individual – as in most instances the only reason for not gaining long-term employment with the company was that the individual was better suited to a different industry or type of role. With help given in securing interviews, references supplied and a free pass for candidates to go out on the job hunt, all seven have now secured employment.
Crucial to the other seven finding work elsewhere was the qualification they achieved after working with Chillisauce for one year – all gained an NVQ – equal to a foundation degree. And arguably more important, transferable skills necessary for any job – discipline, enthusiasm for working, knowing how to communicate effectively, organisation, improved writing and maths skills.
Chillisauce belief in the apprenticeship scheme has been further validated as it recently took on another four young people without experience or qualifications.
It is of course fantastic that large corporates have embraced the apprenticeships schemes but what Chillisauce experience makes clear is that SMEs can and should be looking to recruit young people through the scheme; to mould new starters into the types of employees they need and to create a fresh generation of workers that have had traditional prospects taken away from them because of the increasingly challenging job market.
Chillisauce uptake of the apprenticeship scheme highlights how well-suited young and smaller companies are for helping young people in getting a foot on the career ladder. Both employer and employee have prospered on multiple levels. The company has gained enthusiastic, well-trained sales people. But, not only has Chillisauce.co.uk pulled 18 people out of unemployment and potentially never working, these young people have gained confidence in their ability to work, and now have experience, qualifications, and best of all, a future.