Jess and Martin Barnett, a married couple who between them have decades of retail and marketing experience, opened their confectionery shop The Treat Kitchen in September 2014 in Nottingham. In an incredibly short period of time, they’ve gone on to open two more stores in Leicester and Derby, thanks in no small part to the apprentices they’ve recruited along the way. We caught up with Jess to find out what this small business finds sweet about running apprenticeships.
Photo caption: Jess Barnett (right) with apprentice Jess Russell (left).
The Treat Kitchen is very much a family business, started by husband and wife team Martin and Jess, with Martin’s brother-in-law managing the Leicester branch and his stepdad on fudge-making duties in the original Nottingham store. However, aside from family members, The Treat Kitchen’s first employees were apprentices. Jess explains why:
“Two things attracted us to apprenticeships. Firstly, my husband and I both think apprenticeships are a good way for people to gain valuable work experience, increase their future employability and boost their skills. The second reason was that apprenticeships allow small businesses to access financial support from the government to invest in growing their teams.”
The Treat Kitchen, as well as receiving money via the AGE grant (the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers of apprentices aged 16-24), also got some funding for its apprenticeships via local government schemes. Across its three stores, the business currently has three apprentices, two young people on trial to become apprentices and one permanent member of staff who started his time at The Treat Kitchen as an apprentice:
“Ryan was our first apprentice. He did a warehousing apprenticeship and we’ve just offered him a him a proper job doing all the packing and some of the labeling, stock control and managing of online orders. As well as warehousing apprentices, we have two people doing customer service apprenticeships working directly with customers in the shops.”
Another Jess, Jess Russell, works alongside Ryan. Jess Russell is currently doing a warehousing apprenticeship and has taken responsibility for labeling the glassware and candy pouches ready to be filled with the Treat Kitchen’s delicious products. At just 18 years old, the apprentice has already impressed her employers by taking the initiative and making the role her own, as Jess Barnett says:
“One morning we came in and Jess had labelled every single type of parceling material. We have this huge wall of materials she can just dive into and, although she knows exactly where everything is, she realised that anyone else would struggle to do the job if she was on holiday. She wasn’t asked to do it, she just got organised and created a system, which was really impressive. It’s good to have some young, fresh minds around the place because they come up with ideas we might not have thought of. Because they’re doing these jobs day-to-day, they come up with new systems and ways of doing things.”
It’s not just practical activities that the apprentices are good at, Jess tells us that their simple presence also has positive impact on the business:
“The apprentices create a really good team atmosphere. I don’t know whether it’s because they’re younger or because they’re really keen and appreciative of the experience but they’re often the most upbeat team members and they have good camaraderie.”
So, does Jess imagine that the apprentices she employs today will become the senior management of The Treat Kitchen’s future?
“Absolutely! Ryan, who started as a warehousing apprentice has stayed on to become a fully fledged member of staff and my hope is that as the business expands, we’ll have a packaging facility which will need packing managers and distribution managers. Hopefully those roles will be filled by our apprentices. We believe that because they’ve come on our journey, they’ll have the experience and the desire to see it through with us and stay onboard long-term.”
Jess is very enthusiastic about the enthusiasm, energy and raw talent apprentices can bring to small business. Equally, she sees apprenticeships as being good news for young people looking for a way to enter the working world and have someone believe in them:
“I would definitely recommend apprenticeships to other SMEs because they bring you that fresh pair of eyes and a team that’s willing to put in 100%. I also think it’s good for small businesses that want to grow because you’ve got people who want to be invested in your business. I think it’s really beneficial for both the employer and the apprentice.”