Grove & Dean & Havering College
The Business: Grove & Dean
Essex-based Grove & Dean is a family-run insurance business that currently counts 16 apprentices amongst its 200-strong workforce. HR professional Adam Thomas works with Roy Gander of Havering College’s Business Engagement Team to run the business’s Apprenticeship programme.
“It’s my job to look after the apprentices. I do everything from taking them on and overseeing their education and development to more general HR tasks.”
Since beginning the Apprenticeship scheme nearly two years ago, Adam has been pleased with the results:
“We’d taken on younger people before and some of them worked out really well so we decided to look at Apprenticeships, give the idea more structure and see what sort of candidates we got. To be honest I’m really pleased with the candidates we received so that’s why we continued.”
The majority of the apprentices Adam recruits have good A level results, although some give a particularly strong interview and are offered an Apprenticeship. The Apprenticeships are built around NVQs at level 3 – the level aimed at team leaders and managers. After this, some apprentices at Grove & Dean are put forward to sit the Foundation Insurance Test exam (FIT) to become professional insurance brokers. Adam and his team at Grove & Dean are determined to nurture all the talent that comes through the business:
“With us, the sky’s the limit. You can go on and do whatever you want, we won’t stop you. You can even get to Master’s degree level.”
So how do Havering College work with the business to identify the right candidates? Adam explains that he simply lets the college know he’s looking for an apprentice to match certain criteria and they send suitable candidates, a system that has proved successful:
“Everyone we’ve taken on has remained employed with us so that’s a testament to the fact that the college has given us the right candidates.”
Beyond recruitment, the support continues:
“The college are very good, I’d say at least once a week they check up on one of the apprentices. The apprentices have day release to go to college once a week, and the college keeps a close eye on them so if someone doesn’t turn up, misbehaves in class or isn’t producing work to the required level they’d be straight in contact with me.”
Some businesses in the past have been unscrupulous, using apprentices as cheap labour, with no intention of offering them permanent roles. However, at Grove & Dean Apprenticeships are seen as genuine and valuable routes into employment:
“At Grove & Dean, we take these people on and we want to give them a job at the end of the year. Apprentices are given experience in every department so we can identify whether this person is good in sales or customer service or renewals or IT… Then we’ll tailor their training to the correct business area.”
Adam’s opinion and experience of Apprenticeships is extremely positive and he says: “If a business was thinking of taking on an apprentice, I would 100% definitely recommend it!”
The Training Organisation: Havering College
Havering College is a large further and higher education college in Hornchurch, Essex. The broad range of courses offered covers everything from GCSEs to university level programmes. Apprenticeships are just one stream of learning. Roy Gander is an employment engagement officer. At any given time, Roy and his team will be working with up to 300 employers, mostly SMEs.
The Apprenticeships offered at Havering College fit into around 25 different frameworks and around 450 apprentices attend the college. Roy explains how an Apprenticeship begins:
“Some employers are referred to us by NAS. From receiving a referral we try to make contact with the employer within 48 hours. As well as enquiries via NAS, our own website generates enquiries and we get repeat business.”
Before beginning an Apprenticeship, an individual must already have an apprentice employer. Some businesses come to Roy’s team with an outline of who they’d like to employ and the college advertises the post on their behalf.
“We use NAS’s vacancies website to advertise. We have 30 plus vacancies on there at the moment. There are always at least 10-15. It’s our main recruitment tool.”
When a business approaches Havering College about Apprenticeships, they often have no previous knowledge at all.
“Businesses don’t tend to understand the legal aspects of taking on an apprentice. They sometimes think they’ll have to keep an apprentice regardless of how they perform. They’re not necessarily sure of rates of pay or the hours, or how the Apprenticeship will be delivered.”
Like all good training organisations, Havering College leads the entire process to ensure it is as efficient as possible. From the beginning, employers are given a named contact – either Roy or one of his colleagues, depending on the subject. This makes liaison smoother and more consistent. As the Apprenticeship training progresses, the employer will meet other members of the college’s staff, such as learning co-ordinators and assessors, but the key individual responsible for their case will remain the same. Starting with recruitment, Roy and his team support employers throughout: “Having advertised vacancies on behalf of businesses, we receive all the applications back from the NAS website. Next, we invite applicants into the college for interview. We send the employer a shortlist of suitable candidates and they make their choice.”
Although most of the apprentices’ employers are within 25 miles of the college, Apprenticeships are not restricted to the immediate area. In fact, they can take place anywhere in the country.
“Our Apprenticeships are national and sometimes international. We’ve even done engineering Apprenticeships in the Falklands! They flew over to stay with us for 6-8 weeks at a time.”
However, most of Havering College’s Apprenticeships are delivered by local businesses. The apprentices do on-the-job training in the workplace, working towards NVQs and the majority go into college on day release once a week. Electrical and retail Apprenticeships are an exception. Their frameworks mean a block release works more effectively. When Roy and his team chat to employers about Apprenticeships, they’re often surprised at how easy it is to get going:
“Very small businesses are sometimes unaware that they’re able to take an apprentice on, because of their size. Even a sole trader can do it. We make a point of visiting all employers, taking information about a variety of frameworks. We look at each business and ask a few questions. They may be thinking of one framework but we can sometimes point out a more suitable one.”
Havering College’s scale means there’s scope for employers to request extra modules in order that the training will exactly match their needs. Roy gives an example:
“Our latest scheme is for a domestic appliance company that goes into people’s homes. We are providing a one-off engineering Apprenticeship that has customer service units built into it.”
Businesses who run Apprenticeships are sometimes entitled to a £1500 government grant, something Roy believes is a real incentive, if only for the very small businesses:
“We always explain everything about the AGE 16-24 Apprenticeship grant and, as the training provider, we’ll actually fill out a business’s application for it. Another attraction to employers is that they don’t have to pay the minimum wage, although we advise that they pay over the Apprenticeship minimum wage of £2.68 an hour.”
At Havering College, the service goes beyond simple training, with apprentices encouraged to showcase their talents in Apprenticeship Skills Competitions, entering the Barking and Dagenham Heats:
“This year, we’re entering contestants for computing, plumbing, engineering. We identify the best candidates and then work with the employer to get that person released from work. The college subsidises any costs. It can be good publicity for SMEs and a good thing for the apprentice to say they’ve done.”
Roy believes that Apprenticeships benefit both the young person, and the businesses themselves who gain a loyal, long term employee:
“Apprentices tend to be committed to employers as they can see that someone is investing time and training in them. Most employers are looking at this as a long term investment. Very few think of it as a one year hit. This is especially true for SMEs – they’re looking for employees who’ll become part of the family. When you invest time and energy into someone you want them to stay around.”