DJ Tech Direct & Access Apprenticeships


The Business: DJ Tech Direct

DJ Tech Direct is a retail business that sells music equipment online and in-store to professional and amateur musicians. Jamie O’Callaghan is Operations Manager for the growing business, which is based in Birmingham and was founded in 2006.

As Operations Manager, Jamie’s job is to keep customers happy, keep the 14 staff productive, and make sure the business’s stores and websites operate well. His role is to ensure the product offering is right and that the business is efficient, productive and profitable.

Before making the decision to introduce an apprentice to the business, Jamie had no experience or prior knowledge of Apprenticeships. DJ Tech Direct wanted to maintain its successful growth and recruit from Birmingham’s vibrant pool of talent. Jamie was looking for someone with creativity, skill and a willingness to learn. So, how did he begin his journey to find Mehrunnisa Khan, the business’s first apprentice.

The Apprenticeship was established with help from Andrew Clayton, Employer Liaison Officer at Access2Music. A casual chat with a colleague’s friend made Jamie aware of Access2Music. Once Jamie had made direct contact with Access2Music, things really got underway.

He explains how Andrew helped with the entire apprentice recruitment journey: “Andrew advised us on our candidate requirements and helped us revise our role description before advertising the position through Access2Music’s website. He pre-screened applicants, giving us the ‘cream of the crop’ for our own personal interviews. We also had some potential candidates in for a ‘trial day’ with the support of Access2Music.” The recruitment process complete, Jamie and his team selected Mehrunnisa Khan to undertake the Apprenticeship:

“We chose Mehrunnisa because she really shone. Her intelligence, ambition, experience and knowledge made her perfect for the role. The support offered for academic progression, and the bonus of financial support from the government to assist with the costs surprised me.”

Jamie says that DJ Tech Direct has had to make no particular preparations in order to welcome Mehrnisa to the team:

“The beauty of it is that Mehrnisa has fit in like a normal employee, with the bonus of academic development as we progress. She’s undertaken more areas of our creative marketing than we had imagined she would by this point. She’s already writing blogs, product reviews and support documents to match the visual media we are creating.”

Jamie believes there’s no reason why any small business couldn’t benefit from all the benefits an Apprenticeship can offer, including exceptional value in terms of HR costs. He says: “This is a skilled young person who can develop with a qualification to fill a specific void in your business, and, fingers crossed, you’ll find an apprentice with drive, ambition and quality, like we did!”

The Training Organisation: Access Apprenticeships


Access Apprenticeships is part of the Armstrong Learning Group, a national provider of apprenticeships within creative industries. Employer Liaison Officer Andrew Clayton describes the sorts of Apprenticeships his team facilitates:

“Our Apprenticeships cover technical theatre, studio sound engineering, creative and digital media, digital marketing… and lots more. We also offer business administration, customer service, warehousing, hospitality and catering – support functions for creative businesses.”

Andrew’s role is to establish initial contact with firms that express an interest in Access Apprenticeships. He works with employers to create vacancy adverts for publication on NAS’s recruitment site. In fact, he offers a constant source of advice and guidance to employers throughout their Apprenticeship journey, supporting Access Apprenticeships’s assessors. Andrew’s small but focussed team aims to respond to businesses within three hours of receiving a referral. He explains why this is so important:

“It’s a target we believe leads to good relationships. If businesses know we’re on side from the very beginning, we get a better result in the long run. It’s the same with recruitment – if we spend time making sure the candidate is suitably qualified, the employer gets a good fit for their business.”

Right now, Access Apprenticeships has a caseload of around 50 apprentices in approximately 30 different companies. Most of these businesses have fewer than 25 employees and Andrew is keen to engage with small businesses whether they’re ready to begin their Apprenticeship journey or they simply want to learn about the process:

“If a business is unsure whether an Apprenticeship is a good idea we’re happy to help them explore the idea.”

For Andrew, finding the right match of individual to business is essential and he encourages businesses to be very selective:

“When I send employers shortlists I remind them that if they don’t like the candidates they shouldn’t appoint because this is a real job in a real business. If we get that good fit first time we are much more likely to be successful. We want the right result for the business and the young person.”

The businesses Andrew works with come to Access Apprenticeships with varying degrees of knowledge about Apprenticeships. While some very small businesses may have conducted careful research, other larger companies approach Access Apprenticeships with little or no previous understanding. That’s why Andrew and his team are prepared to provide the level of support each SME requires. Once a business has made contact with Access Apprenticeships, it receives a visit from one of Andrew’s team. Between them, they’ll decide whether the business’s needs can be met by one of Access Apprenticeships’s Apprenticeship frameworks. Next, the vacancy advert is written, a task that Andrew believes the business should take an active role in completing:

“It’s really important that the employer is on board during that process. It’s their chance to think about the essential qualities candidates need and what the role’s duties will be.” Access Apprenticeships conducts a thorough recruitment process before sending the employer details of the best 3-5 candidates, as Andrew explains:

“The employer will receive our recruitment assessment of the candidates and their CVs, including their basic skills assessment score. They’re informed about the candidates before they meet them and they make their own recruitment decision.”

Once the employer has chosen their apprentice, the Access Apprenticeships assessor, the successful candidate and the employer sign the paperwork and a start date is agreed. Andrew and his team also assist employers in applying for the AGE grant: “Anybody with less than 1000 employees who hasn’t employed an apprentice in the last 12 months is eligible for the £1500 AGE grant. We administer that on behalf of our employer partners directly, completing the paperwork and getting it signed off. When the apprentice hits the 13 week point we receive the funding and pay it to the employer.”

The Apprenticeships Access Apprenticeships runs begin with a four-week induction process that combines virtual learning and face-to-face assessor meetings. However, as Andrew explains, learning is just one side of an Apprenticeship – the other being the job itself:

“This young person has started a job with a company so we need to think about their rights and responsibilities in the workplace, what do they need to get done, do they understand things like the fire procedure?” Access Apprenticeships prefers to train apprentices on-site in the employer’s premises. The method is to let them learn by doing the job and then assess them by observing them working. The dedicated assessors work with apprentices to identify goals that have been achieved, and areas where improvement or further training is required. Andrew believes that recruiting an apprentice is a long-term business investment:

“The support new apprentices need pays off as the young person becomes more competent, less dependant on direct supervision, more confident and more versatile and more skilled. Over time that creates capacity for development, business growth and opportunities for other staff. Young people surprise me on an almost daily basis. There’s so much untapped potential in the applicants I meet.”