In Praise of Apprenticeships

Working and studying at the same time can be tough going. Gaining qualifications can be expensive, while finding a job in today's oversubscribed job market can be challenging. For many young people an apprenticeship can provide the solution. It allows them to gain practical on the job experience in a supportive, industry-focused environment, all the while working towards nationally recognised qualifications that support an ongoing career. Apprenticeships negate student debts too and mean that you can earn throughout your training. With so much to gain, it's easy to understand why more than 1.5 million applications were made via the scheme last year! "Hiring an apprentice allows us to train staff to specifically meet the needs of our own particular requirements because the learning process is pretty much tailored to the exact job role" explained Planglow Co-founder Beth Darby. "Apprentices are extremely motivated too" she continued, "and bring a high level of energy to their role and team. What's more, as an employer, I think being part of the scheme demonstrates our willingness to invest in our staff as a whole and aid their career development - to our extended team, our customers, our suppliers and to our industry as a whole. I also like to think we are putting something back into society too and giving youngsters a chance they might not otherwise have had which I feel is hugely important both personally, and as business owner".

Planglow's first apprentice - Tom - was initially employed within the company's CSR (Customer Service Representative) team. CSRs manage customer enquiries providing expert advice on products and services: they place sales orders, liaise with all other departments on behalf of customers and represent Planglow at trade shows and other events as well. CSR apprentices are offered on the job training while working towards their Level 2 Customer Service NVQ. 

Tom started his apprenticeship in March 2013 having finished sixth form the summer before. "I'd worked at my local greengrocers while I was at college so I carried on there after and began looking for an apprenticeship at the same time" he said. Tom had a couple of interviews and was offered a role elsewhere but didn't feel it was quite right for him so he continued with his search untill the position at Planglow came up. "It appealed to me for lots of reasons and covered things I was interested in learning more about" he recalled, "then I came in for my interview and I was struck by how welcoming everyone was - how well everyone got on - and I decided that this was somewhere I really wanted to work".

Like all new apprentices Tom had a few weeks to settle into the role before the NVQ trainer - in this case from a local college - came in for the first of around a dozen meetings over the following 12 - 14 months. Tom explained "The trainer would come in for maybe an hour or an hour and half to look at my coursework, set new assignments and see how I was getting on in general. All the coursework modules were based around my job so there were some mandatory ones plus ones that I would choose tailored specifically around my role which I'd sit down and agree with my manager". 

Tom completed his NVQ in April 2014 and became a permanent member of the CSR team. Last autumn a position came up within Planglow's purchasing department and Tom moved from CSR to supply chain administrator where he continues to work today. "I wanted an opportunity that specifically allowed me to gain a qualification while I was working - as well as to prove to future employers my willingness and ability to learn - which is exactly what it's allowed me to do. In fact the skills and experience I got from being CSR are what helped me to get my current job because they were so transferable", he said. 

Shawna, Planglow's newest apprentice, joined the company this April. Having enrolled at college, she quickly found she was more 'hands on' so she began looking into apprenticeships where she could learn on the job while earning a wage too. Five weeks in she shares how she's found things so far.

"I first heard about the apprenticeship scheme in school but it initially sounded a bit daunting. However, after hearing that some of my friends really enjoyed it, I started looking into it. I was attracted to customer service as I am a very social person and I felt like my skills were suited to the role. I think it's really important to do something that you enjoy too whether it's for experience or a career path". 

"I haven't started my qualification properly yet as I'm still so new but Planglow has already helped and supported me really well - especially Karen (Planglow's customer service manager) and the other CSR's. I have enjoyed settling in and getting to know the company so far plus the sense of independence that the working world brings. It can feel slightly intimidating at first but the independence is actually what I've enjoyed most. And while I am only at the beginning of my journey, in future years I am hoping to go on to get a business qualification".

Jess began her customer service apprenticeship in August 2014 completing her NVQ the following year, she is a valuable member of the CSR team.

"My apprenticeship was a great way of starting out in the big world and I got to develop some really good skills whilst working with a great company. When I was studying my manager Karen was really helpful as she gave me plenty of time throughout the week to focus on my work. She would also help me with anything I was unsure of and was always happy for me to take time out of the working day to study which made it much easier".

"The main things I've learned are how to deal with customers in different ways - on the phone, via email, via the website and so on. I have also learned how to process orders and take complaints. It was really helpful to learn with other apprentices too because you're all in the same position so you can learn together and help each other out when you’re stuck. I think all apprenticeships are really useful and a great step for people who have just come out of education, anyone I have spoken to about them has always really enjoyed them". 

Maddie is another core member of the CSR team. She joined Planglow in November 2014 completing her customer service NVQ just before Christmas last year. She shared many of the same sentiments as Jess. "The scheme appealed to me because it offered an introduction into a working environment where I could gain a qualification at the same time. I found it challenging at first - it was a lot to manage trying to do my job and course work - but support from Planglow enabled me to find a healthy balance that was right for me and for the company. This came from my line manger (Karen) who gave us time to concentrate on our coursework and helped us if we needed it. It was helpful working with other apprentices because you're all in the same boat and it builds a good team relationship which I think benefits the company overall".

Kai joined Planglow as a 'Techy' (Technical Support Advisor) in December 2014, he undertook a level 3 extended diploma in IT and Telecoms as part of his apprenticeship. Kai received his diploma last December and was taken on as a permanent support advisor providing expert technical support to both customers and staff. Like Shawna, Kai was enrolled in 6th form but after a few months found it was not for him. "I didn't get on with it as my timetable was very sporadic and it didn't suit my style of learning as I'm a very on the job learner. So I decided I was better suited to an apprenticeship because it allowed me to earn an income while learning about a subject that I found interesting".

"While not in the same department, having other apprentices in the office was great as I was finding my way around with people of a similar age. And being a similar age we have similar interests that we could talk about so it was easier to make friends within the work environment. I really enjoy being in a friendly environment where I'm still able to get work completed. And the best part of my job is having a great relationship with other staff and my manager Richard. Because before I joined the company I thought it was impossible to get a manager who could get jobs done but also be super friendly and enjoyable to work with".

For more information on the Apprenticeships please visit the website here.

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