Kathryn Coombes (MCIPD)
Team Leader, People Development, People Services
Were there any barriers to apprenticeships within your team?
We haven’t had any barriers getting apprentices in because the nature of our team is learning and development, so Clive (Head of People Development) is keen on it and the rest of the team are keen on it, so we were able to recruit a new apprentice, in a new role, as well as offering an apprenticeship development opportunity to an existing member of our team.
So no barriers for us at all.
How did you embed your apprentices and what was your experience of the recruitment process?
The recruitment process was quite easy to follow, although we had a few “hiccups” where initially participants didn’t turn up to the college for their interviews so we couldn’t do the interviews here. We went out for the second round of recruitment, but this time Exeter College come to our campus to do the interviews on the same day as our interviews which worked really well.
As part of the interview process we had set some workplace tests, but we always do workplace tests for these kinds of roles anyway. The tests included an Excel test to check they can use Excel in a simple sorting exercise. It wasn’t a problem if people couldn’t do the task. If none of them could do it we are capable of giving them training if they were the right candidate. We also had a test looking at their customer service skills and their planning which included an in-tray exercise. Candidates were put in different situations, then asked questions about how they would deal with it. There wasn’t a right or wrong answer, we were looking at their thinking process and how they dealt with the challenges.
We were quite strict on our sifting. Our person specification criteria (Essential and desirable qualities and experience) was small yet specific and quite detailed. That really helped us because all the candidates we had at the interview stage were very good, so choosing someone was quite a hard decision (in a good way).
What are your experiences of managing apprenticeships?
We have 2 apprentices in our team, Amelia who is on a Business Administration level 2 framework and Hannah who is doing a Team Leader/Supervisor level 3 apprenticeship.
Hannah was tasked with supervising Amelia so she could use her new management skills and was able to mentor Amelia on a day-to-day basis.
The information our apprentices learn at Exeter College is really good. They come back to the University and put into practice what they have been doing at college.
One other benefit of apprentices in the team is their new ideas – they are good at thinking about and approaching things differently.
Our admin team has quite a bit of turnover. Usually, people stay for a couple of years, because they use it as a development job. So we are used to new people coming, learning new skills, coming up with innovative ideas, and asking questions. After a few years, once they are settled into their role, they tend to move on to something else so we recruit somebody else in. But that works fine with us and the role.
Do you have any examples of where your apprentices have made an impact on your team?
The apprentice we appointed had previous career experiences which she has been able to really put into practice in her role with us. So it was very straight forward.
One example was that I was able to delegate a task to Hannah as part of her leadership apprenticeship, where we were having issues with workstations, rooms, and where our team were located. Hannah led conversations at our team meetings, talking directly to the rest of the team about how we are going to make things work, collect everyone’s input, and implemented the changes.
Amelia has certainly brought in new ideas and ways to improve the way she administers the courses, because she looks at things, asks the questions, comes up with ideas of how we could do things differently (how do we do this? why do we do it this way? could we do it differently?). We have certainly worked together as a team to improve our processes making sure that everyone gets involved.
Some of the ideas we put into place include new templates making it easier to contact staff and external trainers, enabling us to provide more uniform service to the university.
Because we are a small team, I think we would like to keep our apprentice role because it works well. People can start off, develop in their role, and then move on in their career – hopefully staying within the University and talking to people about our work and what we do, so it is good marketing for our team as well.
How do you manage your apprentices’ 20% off-the-job training time and what impact does it have on your team?
The off-the-job training time is hard, it isn’t easy. You certainly miss people when they are not around. You can’t do a full-time job over 4 days so you have to spread the workload in the team a little bit.
We have good planning systems in place and weekly meetings which mean we can share everything across the team. We also have a SharePoint site that follows up all our events, so if somebody is not available anyone can pick it up, as everyone in the team knows how it works. That works well.
What we have learnt is that as a manager I need to make sure that outside of college term times (when the apprentice is not going into College) our apprentice is still doing the equivalent of one day per week (20%) off-the-job training/tasks. If your apprentice prioritises work over their training day all the extra off-the-job training and tasks soon add up. Off-the-job training will be managed by the apprentice either studying for one day or splitting it into 2 half days to get their assignments done to avoid this issue.
I incorporate apprenticeship mentoring into our regular 1:1s that we have every few weeks, so I don’t think the mentoring element has impacted my work. Because we already had regular meetings and it just forms part of your normal discussion, so for me, it was what I would consider being normal management.
How do you support your apprentices in the workplace?
All our apprentices complete mandatory training in their first week and we follow the normal staff induction process.
Recently we had a new finance system which was really relevant for on-the-job training, especially for Hannah in her supervisory apprenticeship as she needed to work on budgets.
Amelia benefited from sharing an office with Hannah, where she was learning her job to start with and then Amelia was able to train James, who was new to our team, which really helped to develop Amelia too.
Our apprentices have completed further in-house training in IT skills, presentation skills. Some of these courses support what the apprentices are studying at College, and some of them are additional learning for their role. Amelia certainly wants to become more proficient in Excel learning because that really helps in Business Administration.
Overall what has been your experience of apprenticeships?
Having apprentices in the team is just the same as having any other new member of staff. They are keen to learn, keen to develop, want to put across ideas and are keen to ask questions.
We have also looked at courses like impact at meetings, and other personal development skills to develop them as a person.
So I don’t see any negatives to having apprentices. If you had someone who was not an apprentice, they may not be as forthcoming in asking questions and improving processes, the apprenticeship definitely makes people question things more.