As a well-established business of nearly 35 years designing, developing, implementing and supporting software for schools, WCBS has a sound background and a grounded workforce to be able to offer apprenticeships in a number of departments. Our Marketing Team’s interviewer met up with our Operations Manager, Alex Williams and two of our Mentors, Liz and Mark to find out how we structure our Apprenticeship Initiative, and what progress is being made with our current apprentices.
Q. What was the inspiration for taking on apprentices?
Alex: Our business requires specific technical knowledge to provide amazing services and we needed to tackle a skills shortage when recruiting. The Apprenticeship Initiative offered us educated candidates open to learning new skills and means that our training can be precisely targeted to create the perfect candidate for the role. In essence, we can tailor the apprenticeships to our needs – for example, we have a technical role requiring computer coding skills and another with technical expertise that is much more customer focused. In committing to the training and development needs of the individuals we employ; we are more likely to have a positive and long-term retention of our staff – 74% of businesses surveyed say that apprentices are more loyal than non-apprentices. This made apprenticeships a credible and effective route for our recruitment.
Finally, we want to provide a great start for young people and develop our presence as a key employer in our local community, making WCBS a company for whom people want to come and work.
Q. What preparation did you have to do?
Alex: Working closely with Weston College has been key to the success of the apprenticeships. After doing quite a bit of research, we found they offered the best courses to suit our needs, then provided a lot of support during the set-up of the scheme. Also, we have access to an Assessor on a regular basis, who then visits every month helping to identify any issues and to set work towards completing qualifications. WCBS provides key targets and training for the apprentices.
Q. Do you appoint a supervisor or Mentor?
Alex: Yes, we do. Presently we have two apprentices, Sid and Dan who have respective Mentors, Liz and Mark. The Assessor meets all four of them monthly.
Liz: I recently joined WCBS as Support Team Leader, and over the past month have been learning the structure, as well as building a relationship with Sid as he is in my team. This is also providing a fulfilling and additional aspect to my role.
Q. What are the reporting roles and responsibilities of a Mentor?
Liz: Sid is a capable and bright young man, who very quickly displayed this whilst I observed him in my first week. What has been brilliant is to see how the apprenticeship is really having a key role in developing him both in a professional and personal manner.
We met about some identified challenges and what has been really positive is being able to provide feedback to Sid about things to think about, and his ability to take this on board constructively.
Part of my responsibility as his Mentor is to ensure that he has adequate time to complete his work journal. As the support desk is an inbound call centre, I made the decision to assign Sid a daily time slot for the last 30 minutes of his shift, thus enabling him to enter a minimum of two achievements for the day.
There is a dual purpose for this. First, it is a requirement for the apprenticeship, but I also felt that for Sid it was a way to monitor his progress and by noting two positive achievements (e.g. a great customer call/resolution, or networking with other departments) it would also improve his confidence.
Ultimately, my responsibility is to enhance Sid’s skills, developing him both professionally and personally. An apprenticeship allows one to set themselves a good foundation upon which to establish a career, and I look forward to working (and learning!) alongside Sid on the rest of his journey.
Mark: Tasks are set the same as any other team member, but schedules are extended and resources (people) are used to provide ongoing proactive guidance, so Dan doesn’t feel out of his depth; this included moving personnel to sit next to him so queries could be asked as and when, actively querying whether he needed any assistance periodically throughout the day, and providing guidance on planning workloads and timescales. The apprentice’s own skills thusly were developed regarding asking questions, planning, keeping relevant persons up to date on progress etc.
Monthly reviews are put in place ahead of the Assessor visiting, so we can ensure apprenticeship work is complete ready for that visit and offer any assistance where needed.
Additionally, there’s a one to one review to check on such things as welfare, challenges and successes.
There were also periodic reviews during the probationary period that included the department head, Alex, to ensure progress was on track, that Dan was happy working here and there were no problems with the Mentor, or anything else not wheedled out by them elsewhere.
During Assessor visits Mentors discuss progress and three times over the course of the apprenticeship set development targets and comment on the previous set, apprentice attitude etc.
Q. Apprentices – how are you getting along so far?
Sid: I joined WCBS last year in September not long after I had finished my GCSE qualifications, making my role as an Apprentice Support Consultant my first full time employment. The apprenticeship so far has proved to be an excellent source of self-development and learning, and the job itself has helped me to work on and excel in my communication skills alongside my professionalism. At times, the specific role can be extremely demanding and proves a tough but beatable goal always. My resilience has been boosted greatly through the role and its requirements.
Although there have been some gargantuan learning curves and things for me to improve on, I feel like my progress will continue to accelerate and improve. With the support received from my Mentor and others within WCBS, I am confident that this will guarantee a great career opportunity and will pave a bright path for the future with me.
I feel that the apprenticeship projects have and will continue to benefit the company and make stronger the reputation and harmony of WCBS not only as a company, but as a team also.
Dan: I feel I’m getting on well, and find the environment welcoming, people helpful and company very accommodating.
I’ve expanded my HTML and CSS since starting here, which I learned during college, but hadn’t been able to use in a real world application between then and now; in doing so I found there were new commands and the application of code varied greatly from my “introduction” to HTML and CSS done in college.
I expect to get office experience out of this, as well as expanding my social skills, and of course the diploma for my CV.
Talking of my CV, I feel this is leading to a career, so very useful, although I would like to continue working with WCBS as a company, which would negate the need (initially) for CV use!