Can you provide a quick overview of your business? Custom Planet is a printwear and branding company specialising in screen printed t-shirts/clothing, embroidered workwear and promotional products.
When did the business first start recruiting apprentices? We started recruiting around 5 years ago and have a steady flow in and out every year since.
Why did your business consider offering an apprenticeship? At the start it was because it was the only way we could recruit new employees that we could afford to pay! We were definitely attracted to the training wage and the financial support you could receive by hiring an apprentice. It also allowed us to train someone from scratch in a field where there aren’t a lot of fully trained people available in the market. It was an easy choice between training someone on a training wage or training someone on a full wage.
How does the recruitment process work in your business? How much help is offered by the training provider? We basically advertised for the role and the provider found us a list of applicants. We pick the best ones for interviews and go from there. The training provider comes in every month to have a chat and go over the academic side of things while we provide proof of what has been learned on the job so far.
What are / were your first impressions of apprenticeships? And the apprentices you’ve recruited? Most apprentices don’t have any experience in the workplace so it sometimes takes a while for them to come out of their shell. We try to be as fair and patient as possible and make certain allowances in the first few months. We quickly realised that we needed to have more structure around the training of new apprentices and that it’s not just about training them to do a particular job but also about bring out their personality, communication and confidence in the workplace.
How did you help your apprentices settle into the business? We try to keep things light at the start, introduce them to everyone in the company and assign them to a mentor who is responsible for training and nurturing their development. We let them know from the start that there is a full time position ready and waiting for them at the end of the apprenticeship if they apply themselves and learn the skills to become an asset to the company within the 6-12 months that we have them. We try to have social events every couple of months and make sure that everyone feels integrated into the overall communication between all departments and staff using whatsapp. We encourage communication by having a roll call every morning when everyone talks about what their day will entail. Although shy at first, forcing everyone to do this every day very quickly makes apprentices feel comfortable when addressing other staff and the group as a whole.
Do your apprentices have any specific support – induction process, mentors, additional training, etc, that you feel brings additional benefit to the business and apprentice? As soon as they start they are introduced to their mentor and asked to choose their own uniform so that they feel part of the team. We lay out the plan for the apprenticeship and show them what they will be learning and when. As with all of our employees we try to show them the workings and figures behind the business so they understand how their role has an effect on the business and the targets we have to hit as a company and as individuals. Part of the plan is showing them what level they should be at by certain dates which gives them a time line of progress and hopefully some motivation to hit the ground running. Apprentices generally start by doing the really boring and messy jobs and if they can stick through it they get their reward by learning the more interesting tasks and how to run machinery.
How far has your apprentice progressed in your business to date? How far have previous apprentices progressed? Our current apprentice is doing really well. She is now fully trained on our embroidery machines so is now moving into the warehouse to lean that side of the business. I have no doubt that by the time she finishes her apprenticeship in June she will be joining us as a full-time member of staff. Previous apprentices have varied in their progress we had 2 others that have passed and were with us for 5 years and have only just recently left to go onto bigger and better things which were more in line with what they wanted to achieve and gaining the experience they did with us is what allowed them to find work easily in their chosen fields. We have another who is currently working full time with us and has gone on to learn every aspect of printing and has made himself invaluable to the company. On the other hand we have had a few that we had to let go half way through their apprenticeship for anything from bad attendance to vandalism and just not being very good at the job and making too many mistakes by not following procedures and processes that are put in place to prevent such mistakes.
What challenges, if any, have you found with recruiting apprentices? It’s sometimes difficult when things get really busy to make the time to train them. They have to be able to use their own initiative and be left to get on with things. You find out pretty quickly if you are going to have to babysit or if you can just let them get on with things with more of a guiding influence to improve their skills. When we initially held interviews of the 4 people we asked to interview only one showed up, that made it pretty easy to pick who the next apprentice was going to be! Another time we offered the job to someone who very quickly rejected the offer as it would mean that her dad would lose his benefits. Crazy! There are some really great kids out there who just want to work and create a life for themselves but on the other hand there are some who just aren’t interested in learning or working. You can tell pretty quickly which type you have and it becomes easier to spot this at the interview stage the more you get into it.
What do you see as being the main benefits to your business? I would say the main benefit is that you get a really skilled and fully integrated employee by the end of the process. A lot of the time you are giving someone a chance to get work where otherwise they would really struggle. I believe this creates a loyal member of staff who really understands the business and where they fit into it. It feels really good to see the progression and improvement of people and know that you have been a big part of it. I was really proud when the two lads who have been with us for 5 years that we trained went off to jobs that they really wanted to do.
What are your ambitions for the future of apprenticeships and / or the future of your apprentice in your business? Becka’s future is bright, she is really enjoying what she is doing and is 99% nailed on to become a full employee in June. We are looking to take on a new apprentice in April and have been taking on a new apprentice every year for the last 5+ years so I can’t see that changing. What we have discovered is that the balance has to be right between senior/experienced staff and apprentices/recently promoted apprentices. We have big plans for the next 5 years so we will carry on adding experienced staff and apprentices every year.
Andrew Dark and John Armstrong, Co-Founders of Custom Planet.