Employing apprentices: Over a decade of experience

Luke Wedgbury, owner of Coalville Kitchens, has spent the past decade training apprentices, initially going through training providers but now doing everything in-house. Coalville Kitchens started with installer apprentices but is now branching out to design and sales roles.

We currently have two apprentices on the installation side. We’ve had other apprentices over the past decade who became employees and part of the business and some who have moved on and become self-employed or gone to work for another business.

The apprentices have helped us while they are here, but have also helped the broader sector. When you take on an apprentice and train them up, you get a few years out of them, then at some point, they move on to bigger and better things, and that is almost inevitable.

Everyone should be taking on apprentices as it is a powerful thing for the business and the industry. I am excited about apprentices being more mainstream for office-based roles like admin or design. That is what we are looking at this year. We are looking for a CAD designer and a sales designer apprentice. That is new territory for us, and we want to engage with someone that way.

We would do much in-house training for the sales and design apprentices. But any other college courses they want to help them with their actual job, we would help them do – such as specific college courses or training through third parties like our CAD design software provider.

I focus on the outcome, which is that in three or four years’ time I will have somebody who is an asset to the business and they are trained up properly and are working well. I don’t care how they get to that stage – training in-house or out of house.

We have gone through training providers, and it has worked OK. When you go to them, they go through a bunch of CVs of people who are interested.

But it wasn’t as successful as we had hoped. The apprentices we have employed are accountable to us, and they take it more seriously. They jump in feet first and feel like they are part of the business. When doing it via a training provider, it always felt like they were employees of the training provider and were just on a placement with us, rather than being employed by us.  

Those schemes are wonderful, and I am a big advocate for them, as they offer a more straightforward service for people. There is also the plus of a qualification at the end. There is no NVQ or certificate when we do things in-house.

We take on someone full-time and pay them a national working wage for their age, and then we build the wage up in increments. We take all the risk, and while we pay the levy, we don’t use the funds. So, having someone full-time is more beneficial – we take the hit and risk, but it is an investment.

We train them so that they could go somewhere else. Pour everything into them and give them all the skills needed to succeed, but treat them well enough that they want to stay.

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