National Apprenticeship Week: how we’ve made apprenticeships work for us

Written by Investors in People

Article Summary

It’s National Apprenticeship Week and we thought what better way to demonstrate the benefit of having an apprentice than by showing you how we’ve done it here: who our apprentices are, what they do and how they feel we’ve performed as their apprenticeship provider. 

Investors In People is a relatively small organisation and, so far, we’ve had three apprentices, who, in our opinion, have been worth every penny we’ve invested in them – and more. Our two most recent are still here. What follows is their story with us. We promise we didn’t tell them they had to be nice, we simply asked them to be honest.

Scott Irwin – 2013 apprentice, now Events Lead at Investors In People

Scott Irwin joined Investors in People in June 2013 doing a Level 4 business administration apprenticeship. He started off running our CEO’s diary but was quickly given other roles when he showed an interest and aptitude for them. He’s worked on the administrative side of our business, in merchandising, marketing and product development and has climbed the ranks to become our Events Lead – overseeing and planning all the organisation’s events, including the Make Work Better Conference and our annual Investors In People Awards

Scott Irwin (far left) with the Investors in People team atour 2023 London Community Celebration event
Robyn Collins with Ben Godfrey at the 2023 Investors in People Awards

Robyn Collins, 2022 apprentice

Robyn Collins is a graduate apprentice who started with Investors In People in October 2022. She’s at university one day a week studying for her degree in business management and the rest of the week she’s a sales executive for us, where she’s based in the account management team. She’s due to graduate with an honours degree this October.

The Investors In People approach to apprenticeships

We believe in practicing what we preach and that means we put our focus on the apprentice’s experience. For us, a happy apprentice leads to a successful apprenticeship. We try to take a holistic approach and make sure they get to grips with every area of the organisation. Our CEO, Paul Devoy, explains why:

“Giving them exposure to different aspects of the business, finding the thing that they particularly like and want to be good at and then helping develop them in that, that creates a very rounded individual.”

So, is this the perception that Scott and Robyn have had from their own experiences?

Far more senior now, Scott says he’s particularly grateful for being encouraged to try new things and different roles early on: “I think a lot more doors open quite quickly for you here. They provide a lot of opportunities. They’re happy to take calculated risks and are willing to let you have a crack at something because it could pay off.”

And for Robyn, like Scott, it’s being able to move about to gain experience which she’s valued: “I’m not confined to one specific role, and I think that’s crucial, that flexibility, and, as a result, I find myself becoming an increasingly versatile employee. I would consider myself lucky – I know others who have a set role within their organisation – so my experience really reflects on my employer. It’s particularly important to me to have wider exposure across the organisation because of my comprehensive degree in business management.”

As our current apprentice, has she had any issues with her apprenticeship so far?

“No,” she says. “Our Head of Account Management acts as my mentor for my university placement and I think having internal support within my apprenticeship has set me up for continuous development afterwards, as well as acting as a motivator in getting my degree. There’s already talk of what my role will look like after I graduate. I feel like this apprenticeship was an investment for Investors In People. They’re not just getting an apprentice for the sake of saying they’ve got one. I’ve built valuable relationships with many people and I really believe in the cause. I feel like I’m valued as an employee and there will be space for me to professionally develop once I complete my studies.”

While we’re obviously pleased to hear that, it is, we believe, not an accident that Scott stayed and that Robyn wants to as well.

We invest in apprentices

How we’ve benefited from having apprentices

By putting what our apprentices needed first we’re now reaping the benefit of our investment. It is, says Paul, all about thinking long term: 

“Five to ten years on, where Robyn and Scott are now, we know we’ve got somebody who is now higher performing because they had that time to grow and learn and understand. The big advantage as an employer is that you get somebody that learns about the business from the ground up. So, when they get into more senior roles, they really understand the DNA of the company. They understand the history. They understand how it works. Whereas if you bring in somebody from the outside they take a long time before they really get it. So not only do you get the loyalty, you also get somebody who’s embedded in your culture and who has bought into your purpose. But when you add the technical skills on top of that then it’s even more powerful.” 

How we’ve benefited from having apprentices

We asked Scott and Robyn what, if anything, they would change about the apprentice experience and, even though there is ten years between them, they both agreed the biggest need is still to tackle awareness, as well as the lingering stigma that apprenticeships are not equal to a traditional degree. 

“There is, and always will be, the university route,” says Scott. “All I would say is that it’s worth exploring if there is an apprenticeship route in a similar or exact career path you want to take. Right now, yes, you do need to go to university to become a doctor, but you don’t, for example, to study law. If you can find the right apprenticeship for your desired career path, that provides you the opportunity to learn, earn and get ahead while having no student loans to pay back and pushing yourself up the corporate ladder straight away. For me, it’s a no brainer.”

Robyn, who, unlike Scott, did get some advice on apprenticeships at school, fully agrees about the benefits of gaining work experience and coming out of university debt free.  Awareness about the variety and type of apprenticeships though is still a big issue: “My school did a few things for National Apprenticeship Week. However, I was introduced to the idea of graduate apprenticeships by the company I did a modern apprenticeship with first and I wish I had known about them earlier. Nobody at school said there was an alternative to a degree and I feel like no-one knows what a graduate apprenticeship entails.”

The other issue she highlights is workload: “Because it’s a full degree there’s no cutting corners so it can be difficult to balance workload. Having a good management system is really important. I’m really luck I have that, but I know not everybody is.”

Why employers need to focus on providing quality apprenticeships

An apprenticeship scheme that doesn’t put the apprentice’s experience first is good for no-one. It’s not good for the apprentice’s wellbeing and it’s not good for the employer, who’s much more likely to lose that apprentice and therefore the investment they made when they hired them.

For our CEO, more employers need to turn their focus to the quality of what they provide. Too many, he says, place the emphasis on their short-term workforce needs, providing apprenticeships to plug an immediate skills gap but which are so narrow in focus they don’t do a lot for the individual apprentice:

“We have a disconnect in society at the moment. A lot of young people don’t want to go to university now. They would rather get an apprenticeship and learn and earn rather than come out with a whole load of debt in an uncertain job market. But there aren’t that many high-quality apprenticeships out there. Yet when you speak to employers they say how hard it is to recruit and retain staff. If employers took a longer-term view it would address a lot of the workforce issues they’re feeling the pain of now. You really can have a more productive workforce if you invest in developing people in a role.”

In summary

Stretch your apprentice, help them understand the whole organisation, give them guaranteed time for their studies and provide support and mentorship – that’s how you focus on the apprentice experience. Do that and, as we hope our apprentices have demonstrated, you will reap the benefits long term. 

If you’d like more information on how our We Invest in Apprenticeships framework can support you in developing an effective apprenticeship programme, please get in touch.  We’re here to make work better!

About Investors in People

Investors in People have been working with a huge range of big and small organisations from Public Sectors, SMEs, Charities, PLCs and anything in between for over 30 years. We have accredited more than 50,000 organisations and our  accreditation is recognised in 66 countries around the world, making it the global benchmark when it comes to people management. So we know we speak your language and can offer the specific kind of support and guidance your organisation needs.

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14th Nov 2023 | Old Billingsgate, London



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