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Apprenticeships in Our Own Words


Our Apprenticeship Story 

CEO & Co-Founder Sarah Windrum 


Sarah Windrum of Emerald Group Currently at Emerald we have three apprentices and most days it feels like I have three teenage children! Our apprenticeship journey started quite negatively about five years ago when we had won a number of contracts and needed to more than double our 5 person company. I was told by a number of apprenticeship providers that apprentices were the answer because they were ‘cheap labour’. This was not something I wanted to subscribe to. I believe in training and wages that reflect value for money to a business during that training (I have been a trainee myself) but I have never believed in ‘cheap labour’. Nor will I. It’s not right for the technology industry when even the most inexperienced of trainees with the right attitude can perform tasks of value, and I am sure a lot of other industries are the same. On top of this I was always shown a lot of forms that would allow me to get some money back for my apprentices but that looked like a whole world of pain for me. There appeared to be lots of criteria that the business needed to meet and lots of regulation attached to what would amount to less than £1,000. It never seemed worth my time or effort.  

I dismissed all the providers and decided that apprentices were not for us. So what did we do to solve our recruitment problem? We started our own apprenticeship scheme! Except we didn’t call it that. I spent two years knocking on every door at our local college until I got to the new Principal and we set up a work experience scheme for their IT Network Foundation Degree giving 200 hours per student. We have two of these people still as full-time employees today and one left us recently for university. We also retrained people from hospitality, retail, and hair & beauty careers to work in technology. We invested heavily in our new team and we paid them a value for money training wage. Today every company is a technology company and a certain large employer in our area recently attracted two of our employees because of their higher wages, but only after they had gained significant experience with us and completed their informal apprenticeship into the industry. I’m not bitter - it’s the way it goes - and my job as head of a small business is to ensure I offer employees all the things a big corporate can’t. But here we were in January 2018 needing two new employees again. This time apprenticeships were sold to me as a subsidised way to train new employees and a promise from the training provider that they would deal with all the paperwork - so I said yes!  


What do I value about apprenticeships as a small business owner? 

 The contribution to the cost of training is the main attraction of apprenticeships to us. We spend on average £2,000 per employee per year on work-based training and any contribution or help in this area is gratefully received. The main challenges are finding the right course and the right candidate which is where using a trusted third-party organisation has helped us enormously. We have used JBC Training, a private training provider specialising in IT apprenticeships; and Digital WM, a joint venture between our local Further Education colleges offering a full range of digital apprenticeships. Digital WM have also helped us with salary expectations; CV sifting; and sharing our role advertisements on a wide range of platforms.  

Apprentices don’t have to be young (although the three we have are teenagers still!) and I think irrespective of age having people new to your industry brings new ideas, new learning, and new enthusiasm. As the owner of a small business, I value the opportunities our apprentices bring with their new thinking.  


What are the challenges to employing apprentices for a small business owner?  

 The main challenge once the apprentice arrives at the workplace is the same as employing any young person. When we recruited people from other industries transferring to technology, the main issue was a lack of technical knowledge and a pressure to learn quickly. That pressure is still there only now we are also trying to teach them other things: professionalism, soft skills, and how to apply the technical skills they are learning on their apprenticeship. If you asked me to list the top three things I wish my apprentices knew, they would be: 


1. An appreciation of resource management. No apprentice is an island and seemingly individual actions like being late impact on everyone: co-workers; customers; and suppliers  


2. An ability to prioritise. In the professional world there are always tasks to be done. Assessing the urgency and allocating a priority level accordingly is something hugely valuable  


3. An understanding of your eco-system. Number 1 & 2 develop as a result of this understanding. Knowing where you fit within the business and where the business fits within the regional, national, and even international eco-system is crucial to delivering great performance 



My Apprenticeship Story  

Sales & Marketing Apprentice George Saxton  

Emerald Group apprentice

I knew that when I left school, I wanted to get as far away from education as possible. I wanted to be treated like an adult, I wanted to be trusted and wanted to be left to do all my own research, writing and practical work. I also knew Sixth Form wouldn’t offer me this, so I decided college was the best option. I left college three years later, enjoying my time there and leaving with the knowledge and qualifications for Media Studies & Music Technology. I wondered where I could go from there, with qualifications in two of the hardest subjects to get a successful career in. That is where I found The Emerald Group. 


I went for my interview as a Sales and Marketing Apprentice. It has the creative side of making videos, writing posts and creating images as well as the analytical side, which I had learned a great deal about over my time in Media Studies. I knew how to promote over social media, and I knew how to create high quality videos and pictures, but I never had to promote for a business before or create videos for an IT support business. I knew it was going to be a learning curve, but I enjoyed the thought of the challenge ahead of me. 

Now here I am, three months down the line, having passed my probation and signed on to be Emerald’s Sales & Marketing Apprentice. I had to adapt very quickly to the way Emerald works, it’s history and its customers. Although it’s been hard, I do love working here and I’m sure there are more challenges to come! 


What do I value as an apprentice? 

I value the way that Emerald can trust me so much and at the same time, know I’m not going to be spot on to their expectations from the get-go. You can always learn more, no matter what age you are or what your background is. I value the fact that even though I’m new to the company, my ideas are always listened to, no matter how extreme or small they are, they are always considered as a valid option.  


What are my main challenges as the apprentice? 

It was hard trying to adapt my writing style to the company’s. It’s my job to write all the social media posts, so I had to look through and try to copy the style from other posts. However, once I got the hang of that it wasn’t so bad. Also learning to answer the phone and  go out networking was hard for me as I have never been in a position where I had to answer the phone regularly or try to talk to people I have never met about what I do or what they do. It has really boosted my confidence, but it is hard trying to get over being so shy when talking to people!! 




I loved the way how you take the challenges and being open minded of your task. The positive approach on every difficult situation is most likely will create a positive outcome.

28 October 2019 20:50
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