Lara Mellor is a speaker in our upcoming Apprenticemakers LIVE Webinar on the 17th September.
For some businesses, an Apprenticeship can be the catalyst for wide-reaching success. Someone new joins the team and sets off a domino effect, creating new opportunities and breathing life into the entire workplace. That’s what happened at Claims Management & Adjusting Ltd (CMA) in West Malling, Kent. Claims and operations manager Lara Mellor, who began her own career as an apprentice, tells us CMA’s story.
“In January, we took on our first apprentice – Helen Francis. She was a staff recommendation, which is how we recruit most of our people. I had her in for a chat, she seemed to fit well and we’re very happy.”
For Lara, selecting an apprentice was about finding the right person, rather than the right skills:
“Most young people have limited job experience, if any. Maybe they’ve had several different types of job and they’re looking for the right thing. Or they’re not actually sure what they want to do. I remember being that age and not knowing 100% what I wanted to do for a career – that’s something you have to look past.”
19-year-old Helen is doing a Level 2 Apprenticeship in Business Administration with training provider Social Enterprise Kent (SEK). Lara’s approach was to work with Helen to establish the objectives and responsibilities of the Apprenticeship:
“We began by talking about what she enjoys and what she doesn’t like so much. Then we evolved the role around her as much as possible. There are some tasks that are boring and repetitive but they sit with her because she is the apprentice. We’ve tried to really involve her so we’ve given her responsibility for being the first-aider. Our first-aider left, there was a gap, so Helen did the Red Cross course and she’s a certificated first-aider.”
With a close team of just 12, Helen’s Apprenticeship soon started to have a positive effect on her new colleagues. Lara describes the changes just one person has made to the business as ‘amazing.’ She says:
“We’ve been able to give opportunities to people internally who might not have put themselves forward. If there’s been a vacancy in the past it’s always been advertised externally but bringing Helen in has allowed us to offer existing members of staff secondment to try out new roles.”
With Helen taking on duties as a new administrative employee, one of her colleagues has moved over to the claims department. In turn, this has allowed a claim handler to become a technical claims manager and take on responsibilities that previously fell to Lara. Now, Lara herself is feeling the impact of having an apprentice in the business:
“I was doing claims operations, business development and also looking after our client relationships. Now, I’ve been able to take on more of the managing director’s responsibility. So what I’ve been able to do is take the technical element of my role out leaving me with ops, client relationships and business development and that’s how we will drive the business forward.”
It’s Lara’s hope that Helen will go on to do a further Level 3 Apprenticeship via the Chartered Insurance Institute before becoming a permanent employee. Meanwhile, the business’s Apprenticeship programme will be extended to create another two opportunities.
Lara did careful research before selecting Social Enterprise Kent to administer the Apprenticeship. She wanted a learning provider with experience of working with smaller businesses. However, there was another significant factor:
“SEK had very good feedback from previous apprentice candidates, which is actually more important to me than the employer feedback. I believe that an Apprenticeship is about the young person and if they’re happy then the employer will benefit.”
Having an apprentice in the business has pushed Lara and her team to review HR policy and tighten up various internal processes.
“There were some things that we knew but perhaps weren’t documented. It’s been good for the business to refresh and make sure we have everything in the right place. For instance, we’re a small business and we didn’t have a diversity and equality policy. It was kind of a given that we looked after each other properly. We formalised that, which was really nice because everyone got involved.”
For a small business, running an Apprenticeship can be hard work and does require some commitment. However, for Lara the benefits outweigh the costs and have radiated out from Helen herself with unexpected consequences:
“Having an apprentice in the business has highlighted the talent of people we already had – talent I didn’t know existed! Just one apprentice has let us evolve our structure to take the business to a different level of profitability.”
Pictured: Lara Mellor with the business’s apprentice Helen Francis (left).