Lynn Herron runs Fair Deal World Shop, a fair trade store in Stopsley, Luton. She recruited her first apprentice, Nicole Swain, 20, (pictured) two years ago. Since then, Nicole has completed her Intermediate Retail Apprenticeship and has just begun an .Advanced Apprenticeship in Retail Management We chatted to Lynn about why she chose to set up an Apprenticeship and how it’s working out for her, for Nicole and for the business itself.
So, tell us a bit about your business, Lynn.
It’s a specialist fair trade shop. Twenty years ago I took over what was a functioning business but at that time it only supplied volunteer sellers – it wasn’t a shop. Now, we sell to the public and provide supplies to people who are volunteer sellers of fair trade. That’s a big aspect of our work.
At the moment there’s only myself and my apprentice, plus some volunteer help from friends and people who are very keen on fair trade. When Nicole came to work for us she had just turned 18 and having an apprentice was a completely new venture.
Why did you decide to set up an Apprenticeship?
In the past, my employees had mainly been professional people who perhaps had retired and were committed to fair trade. They were very reliable and responsible people but they weren’t retailers. I wanted someone who was genuinely interested in retail, someone I could train up to have specific skills. Because of the supply aspect to the shop, you have to be able to do two different sets of tasks, dealing with both fair traders and the public. It’s an interesting job but it’s a complicated job and you have to be quite calm to be able to cope with lots of people suddenly making very different demands on you simultaneously. I felt that a young person coming into the business would perhaps acquire those skills better than someone who already had a background in ordinary retail.
How did you select Nicole to be your apprentice?
The training provider running the Apprenticeship did the initial recruitment for me. They did a weeding out of people they felt would not make the grade and I ended up with around 13 applicants. We went through their applications very, very carefully and finally offered interviews to four people.
What’s surprised you about having an apprentice?
When Nicole came to work with me she was very interested in the artistic side of retail, and I think both of us expected that if she were to specialise in anything, it would be display. Although she is an ambitious young woman, I believe Nicole has surprised herself. Because there are only the two of us, she’s had to take on a lot of responsibility and she’s shown herself to be very capable of doing that. I think that’s made her realise that actually she’d be more interested in management. That’s been a surprise to us both, I think.
In fact, Nicole is starting the Apprenticeship at Advanced Level in Retail Management, right?
Yes, that’s right – with a new training provider. Nicole enjoys her job and there are always new things to learn here. In the long term, I believe she has potential to become the manager of my shop.
What advice would you give to another SME thinking of setting up an Apprenticeship?
When I first decided to recruit an apprentice, it didn’t occur to me to read training providers’ Ofsted reports. I hadn’t realised that these providers were Ofsteded like schools. Another thing I feel quite strongly about, is apprentices’ wages. I think it’s OK if an apprentice comes to you and works for a fairly low wage for a few weeks because that allows you to sort those who genuinely want to train from those who just want a job. But I do feel that you must then systematically increase their wages as they take on more responsibility, and show more competence. An apprentice isn’t a source of cheap labour but someone you are training towards playing a valuable role in your business.
And what about young people, would you advise them to go down the Apprenticeship route?
Oh yes, very definitely. I think it depends on the individual and what they want to do but a degree is no longer necessarily a valuable asset. It’s still the only way into certain professions but it’s lost its value for many. An Apprenticeship is an excellent way to begin a worthwhile career via hands on learning and without getting into lots of debt.