Listen to Blue Moon Creative talk about their apprenticeship story in our upcoming webinar,
Branding and website design agency Blue Moon Creative in Pershore, Worcestershire, is owned by husband and wife team, Michael and Gail Taite. Michael, the MD, spoke to us about the role apprentices have played in growing the business.
Blue Moon Creative was recently named Small Employer of the Year at the 2014 National Apprenticeship Awards, which recognises excellence in developing home grown talent with apprentices. The business also appears on the prestigious City & Guilds Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers list.
Michael and Gail bought the creative agency in 2012. Initially hesitant, when they realised the business had a strong client base that was loyal to the long-standing Studio Manager, the decision was made:
“We took over with a grand total of one employee. The existing clients cared about the quality of the work on offer and wanted an agency that could dedicate time to their branding, so we knew we needed to grow the team significantly to be able to dedicate the right resource to each project.”
Although Michael hadn’t intended to grow the business with apprentices, when a young person looking to learn design via an Apprenticeship approached the company, he began to appreciate the advantages:
“When we looked into the training and funding we were so impressed, we decided to take on three apprentices, doubling the size of the team!”
Blue Moon worked closely with Creative Alliance, a learning provider in the creative and cultural sector in the West Midlands, to work out how to approach the Apprenticeships. With Creative Alliance’s help they went on to recruit the person who’d approached them along with two other apprentices, each with a distinct area of interest: branding, website design and video.
One element of Apprenticeships that came as a happy surprise to Michael was the AGE Grant of £1,500 for each of their three apprentices. In fact, the managing director has been thrilled with the entire process:
“Our whole experience of Apprenticeships has been very positive. We’ve not had any problems with lateness, poor attendance, or anything like that. All our apprentices have been very conscientious and committed.”
In fact, the business’s apprentice illustrator – a fourth apprentice hired a year later – was so committed that, for months, she travelled three hours each way to work for Blue Moon, before moving locally. For a specialist business operating in a small town finding the right people locally can be challenging, so this level of commitment is valuable. The four apprentices, who were all between 18 and 20 years old when hired, each arrived with A levels but Michael also needed them to be a good fit:
“We were looking for aptitude and attitude. All our apprentices have come to us with a knowledge of what they’d like to do in the business and that’s been great, particularly when coupled with that desire to do a good job.”
By giving these young people real responsibility and an opportunity to prove themselves, Michael has brought out the best in them:
“When apprentices work for real clients they become conscientious. Their know their work really matters and is about as public as it gets. They get immediate feedback and really it’s all about being recognised for doing a fantastic job. That’s something we all like!”
All Blue Moon apprentices to date have been retained on completing their courses, and half of them expressed an interest in moving on to Level 4, which would be equivalent to degree level. However, training organisations are currently struggling to deliver at Level 4 as these qualifications are not funded. Along with other businesses, Blue Moon has lent its support to a call to fund these higher Apprenticeship qualifications.
In the meantime, Michael and Gail are investing in the apprentices’ continued professional development by encouraging learning activities such as attending industry seminars and events, assessing the work of leading designers online and completing online courses, such as those on Codeacademy, as Michael explains:
“I’m happy for them to spend some of their work time doing this. It’s really the best way for designers to learn, taking inspiration from some of the best in the world.”
We asked Michael how he felt the Apprenticeship model compares with internship programmes, the more traditional route into his industry:
“Our one intern was a marketing person, so it’s hard to compare, as we haven’t used design interns. My feeling is that whatever their background, young people new to the world of work are always going to have to get up to speed. If you go through that with an employee you want to make sure they’re with you long-term to make those early stages worth the effort.”
Our apprentices report that their friends on university courses are doing in two months what they themselves do in two weeks. After three years, the apprentices in our team will have a huge portfolio, demonstrating design over a vast range of media for real commercial projects on which they have had a leading creative role. That seems more valuable and marketable.”
There’s no doubt that Blue Moon have succeeded in making a real success of Apprenticeships and created a blueprint for other small creative businesses interested in doing the same. Michael says:
“We’re happy to help spread the word about the value of Apprenticeships to small businesses everywhere. They have been absolutely central to the growth and success of Blue Moon Creative.”