KBB retailers agree apprenticeships “not working”


Independent KBB retailers are still extremely hesitant to take on apprentices, with the vast majority indicating that they still have no plans to employ one.

This was according to the results of a straw poll of retailers at the recent KBSA Conference. It found that the majority of retailers [62%] don’t employ apprentices and don’t have any plans to. 21% reported that they had taken on a single apprentice, 11% said they had multiple apprentices, and just 6% said they had plans to take on an apprentice in the next 12 months.

A panel of retailers speaking at the event said that apprenticeships in their current state, aren’t benefitting their businesses, and that they are unwilling to adopt them until their concerns have been addressed.

Elizabeth Pantling-Jones, co-director of Lima Kitchens in Milton Keynes, admitted to having reservations about the apprenticeship scheme: “I really want to be an advocate for this, but I don’t think we’re at a point where I feel like I can be. I tried year on year to get onto the apprenticeships scheme but struggled to get any phone calls back. If you can’t even get the contact right, how can you blame the industry for a lack of uptake?

“Right now, we employ one apprentice and, as an employer of six people in their twenties, that one apprentice isn’t bringing anything more to the table that I’m not already getting from the other younger employees.

“I’m a big advocate for supporting young people and we’re [Lima Kitchens] are finding it easier and more effective doing that without apprenticeships.”

Luke Wedgebury, director, Coalville Kitchens agreed that there are significant problems in accessing apprenticeships: “The industry does have to step up, but all the pressure is on retailers. On top of everything we already have to do as business owners, we’re now being told we need to take on apprentices to save our industry – but no one ever tells us where to go to actually do that.

“I’ve had great experiences with two in my businesses, but I didn’t go to an apprenticeship provider. I just tried to find someone young with the intention of training them up in the business. I found that quite easy to do.”

Halcyon Interiors’ Graham Robinson shared that he’d had a similar experience, pointing out that he felt retailers had a greater chance of retaining a young employee if they’d been found independently of an apprenticeship scheme.

Joanna Geddes, from Kitchens by J S Geddes, also noted that apprenticeship schemes are often not tailored to the KBB industry itself.  

Barry Moss, from LEAP
Barry Moss, from LEAP

“When I sent one of our apprentices to college, he came back telling me he’d learned how to fit a PVC window,” she said. “That is of no value to me at all. Without the courses being tailor-made for our industry, we’re wasting resources by sending young people there.”

Speaking exclusively to kbbreview, Barry Moss, an apprenticeship expert from LEAP, said that the results of the poll were “disappointing but not surprising.”

“The poll doesn’t surprise me. I spoke about this six or seven years ago in the builders’ merchant industry and had the same reaction then. It’s disappointing, but I don’t see it as a problem – I see it as part of the process to get to where things will change.

“I don’t argue with anything [the panel] said, but the answer isn’t to say ‘well, we’ll just do it ourselves,’ because that’s not happening. We know that not enough people are coming into the industry. The answer is that if it’s not working for you, then shout about it.

“That conversation was brilliant for me, because now people are talking and thinking about the issue, and that’s where we need to be at this stage. This industry isn’t there just yet, because the programmes aren’t appropriate. The standards don’t reflect what this industry does. So, let’s talk about it, and let’s and shout at government together.”

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