Magiboards Ltd has been manufacturing visual communication products in the UK for over 50 years. The highest grade Enamel Steel whiteboard was a brainchild of its founder and today, Magiboards has become a leading supplier of long lasting, quality whiteboards and noticeboards.
The business recruited its first apprentice in the accountancy department five years ago and this was such a great experience that it recently recruited two more apprentices to join the team in production and customer services.
We spoke to the business’s co-owner Angela van der Stap to find out how they approached apprenticeships and the difference it has made to their business.
Can you provide a quick overview of your business?
We are a manufacturer of visual communication systems, including whiteboards, notice boards and custom printed whiteboards and display boards. We also sell the accessories that go with them. The business has been going for 50 years and we took over the business 11 years ago.
When did the business first start recruiting apprentices?
About five years ago we were looking for someone to join the team in the finance department. We were happy to consider a graduate or an apprentice, but it just so happened that the first person who came our way and fitted the bill was sent to us by the Telford College of Art and Technology (TCAT), who ran the apprenticeship scheme.
That apprentice we recruited was Joe Charley (pictured), and he’s been a fantastic asset to the business right from the start. The reason he’s been such a great fit is that he had the right personality, plus a great attitude and a willingness to learn and progress. More recently we’ve recruited two new apprentices into the business: Nathan in production and Nikki in Sales & Customer Service. We’re really excited about what they will bring to the business too. It’s great to see people grow and develop in their roles.
I have always believed that attitude is as important as education. It is not what you’ve got on paper, but whether you have the right attitude, are willing to learn and are enthusiastic for the role. More than anything else we are looking for apprentices with a positive attitude who want to progress.
How did the recruitment process work?
In the first instance we contacted both TCAT and Warwick University. Both seemed to have programmes to find apprentices or graduates for our business. It was quite simple. It just so happened that the right candidate came our way from TCAT.
Right from the start we fully employed Joe. With support from TCAT we learnt that he would have on the job training supported by a tutor who came into our premises. We gave him the time to do the work he had to do. The TCAT contacts would regularly touch base with him and would keep us up to date too so that we could understand his progress. It was very well guided.
Did you receive a grant, and how much of an incentive was it?
Yes, we got the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE Grant) for Nathan and Nikki, and received an additional grant from Telford & Wrekin Council. The grants were definitely a help in the process as it does take additional time to support apprentices in the business.
How do you help your apprentices settle into the business?
The apprentices get the same introduction to the business as other employees. We really try to empower our apprentices, supporting them along the way and giving them the tools to do the job, but also providing the freedom for them to take ownership of, and gain confidence in, the role. It doesn’t always work out, in fact we did have one apprenticeship that didn’t, but this could happen with any employee.
I think Joe’s apprenticeship has been so successful because he was such a great fit for the team and he really wanted to get on. Now, five years on he’s pretty much running the accounts department and he has an accountancy qualification. He would consider himself to be much further down the line than had he gone to University, in fact there is only one more qualification that he will be doing next year which will take him to degree level. Next we’ll be honing in on management skills to support his progression into management.
What challenges, if any, have you found with recruiting apprentices?
I’ve not really experienced any challenges. Before we approached apprenticeships I was expecting the process to be long, but in fact it all happened very quickly. I think you’ve got to be prepared to wait for the right person. Luckily for us our most recent recruits arrived much sooner than we thought would be the case.
What do you see as being the main benefits to your business?
When you want to take on a new employee as a small business you haven’t necessarily got the money to pay someone with experience, so you just need someone with the right attitude. Ultimately, recruiting apprentices has allowed us to take on extra people that we might not have been able to take on otherwise, so there’s no doubt that cost is a major factor.
As well as that you get recruitment support which is a big help. if you recruit without the support of a training organisation you can end up paying large fees to a recruitment agency with no guarantee that that person is going to be right. TCAT supported us every step of the way from sourcing candidates to helping with the shortlisting.
Some people might be reluctant to take on a younger person, but in our experience there are a lot of amazing 18 year olds out there who are very mature, who want to get on in life and learn. It’s something you can find out about at interview. Ultimately it comes down to attitude. As well as that the company has to have the right attitude too. There’s no doubt that it takes slightly more time to support an apprentice, however if you invest time the end result is a fantastic fit for your business.
Also bringing young people in has definitely added to the fun and vitality in the team, and it helps with the succession planning too.
Do any apprentices stand out for you in terms of what they’ve achieved?
What Joe has achieved has been amazing. It’s early days for our two new apprentices but we’re very excited about their potential in the business.
What are your ambitions for the future of apprenticeships in your business?
Our apprenticeship plans are all based on what the company needs at the time, so if we need to recruit in the future, we will certainly consider the apprenticeship route. Right now we’re just really happy to have good apprentices in the business.
The government is proposing that from next year businesses contribute 10% of the training costs to an apprenticeship, how do you feel about that?
I think that if the business is still getting 90% of the training costs covered that it would still make a massive difference. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker. You have to remember what you’re saving in terms of time and actual financial outlay in recruitment. It’s quite difficult if you want to look through 60/70 applications as a small business so that extra support is a big help. Costs are an important factor in businesses, so it will depend on the cost of the training. Without grants it would also be more difficult to hire apprentices.
What advice would you give other businesses considering apprenticeships?
I would say: Do it, as they can be a great asset to your business, but make sure you take your time to get the right person.