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A new generation of apprenticeships, the same skills for life

Wayne and Chloe. Father and daughter. Engineer and digital marketer. Apprentices from different generations. Advocates of workplace learning. Believers that professional skills are as valuable as academic qualifications. Believers too that the structure of an apprenticeship and the culture of the company delivering it is as important as the training. 

Wayne Adam, 55, is an experienced engineer who learned traditional skills, including fabrication and draughtsmanship, in the late 1980s. His daughter, Chloe Adam, 21, is a Digital Marketing Apprentice at Brother UK, who completed a three-year foundation course in graphic design and computer science and grew up with social media

Chloe is the archetypal modern apprentice: enthusiastic and already thriving in Brother UK’s supportive culture. Her family couldn’t be more pleased that she has found an environment in which to excel with a company that is at once a major business with an international reputation and a cherished local employer. 

Just eight months into her career with Brother UK, Chloe has already made a positive impact. She’s impressed her colleagues and managers with a positive attitude and broad skillset. She has welcomed opportunities to advance and delivered when tasked with projects that might typically exceed the responsibilities of an apprentice. 

"My dad knew I was conflicted after college. He said: 'If you want to go to university, sure, but don't forget apprenticeships are a viable option and can set you up for life.’ It’s crazy how supportive the culture is at Brother UK. The Managing Director knew my name on the first day!”

Apprentice evolution

Few families embody the evolution of apprenticeships like the Adams. Wayne learned in a sink-or-swim environment where more experienced colleagues threw the work of apprentices in a rubbish bin if they considered it substandard. Later, he was compelled to seek employment before completing his apprenticeship, so low was his salary. 

Chloe’s experience with Brother UK couldn’t be more different. Her colleagues are supportive, her line manager is also her ‘buddy’, and an external tutor oversees her apprenticeship assignments. She describes her salary as “a big bonus” and “a nice benefit”. Clearly, it allows her to focus on developing her skills.

Like her father, however, Chloe has learned the importance of an empowering culture to work-based learning. Her first digital marketing apprenticeship, begun with an agency serving the fashion industry, offered pressure to reach engagement targets and little interaction. She remains an apprenticeship advocate, thanks to her experience with Brother UK.

“With an apprenticeship, you’re working on real projects in real-time. I was fed up learning in a classroom, performing one-dimensional tasks and working on fake projects. I’ve appreciated the opportunity at Brother to push myself; to grasp the reigns. I wasn’t focussed on the aspect of getting paid,” she says.


The value of structure

Chloe describes a societal pressure on young people to go to university. She believes work-based learning should be regarded as an equal and genuine alternative. Certain careers require an academic foundation; for many others, however, hands-on learning in an environment filled with experienced professionals can be a more rewarding option. 

It's an opinion shared by her father. Wayne emphasises the culture and commitment of the business delivering the apprenticeship. It is critical, he maintains, that every apprentice receives the same exposure to opportunity. Companies must resist the temptation to use apprentices to fill resource gaps and treat every trainee equally.

"A well-structured apprenticeship can be a valuable tool. In my apprenticeship, everyone worked in a different department for a set period. The company identified where you were strongest and offered you a role. Every apprentice must receive the same experience to avoid missing areas where they might have been strong." 

For Sam Johnson, Brother UK’s Learning and Organisational Development Manager, structural improvements represent the most significant evolution in modern apprenticeships. A government initiative to empower “trailblazing" businesses has created more clearly defined standards. At every level of apprenticeship, greater emphasis has been placed on evidencing essential knowledge, skills and behaviours. 
“Many apprenticeship programmes were loose and unstructured until the government began working with a cross-section of ‘trailblazing’ businesses. Since they’ve allowed these companies, subject matter experts, to define new apprenticeship standards, the criteria for skills, knowledge and behaviour have become much more in-depth and encouraged stronger development of young people.”

A perfect fit

Brother UK has offered a perfect fit for Chloe’s skills and personality: one she became aware of even before she began her apprenticeship. The company contacted Chloe via LinkedIn and invited her to its Tameside headquarters for an informal conversation. Later, she returned to present suggestions for the company’s website. 

“I’d really struggled to find a new job before Brother contacted me. It was nerve-wracking, but they were very supportive and, thankfully, very impressed. The day after I’d given my presentation, the training provider called and said Brother had offered me an apprenticeship. I was over the moon,” she says.

She received a welcome card signed by her new colleagues. Enclosed was a map of the building, an invitation to lunch in the staff restaurant and a bag of Brother-branded ‘goodies’. On her first day, Chloe received a presentation from the HR team explaining the company’s policies and business goals.

“The first day was daunting. I’d been unemployed for four months, and it was my first experience in a large, modern office. I was worried about fitting in with so many different people and kept offering to  get coffee, but they’d say: “Chloe, it’s fine. Let us get you one."

Fresh starts and warm welcomes

The warmth of the welcome from her new colleagues made an instant impression on Chloe. Immediately, she knew that she’d found an environment in which she could fulfil her potential. An impressively modern office space, extensively remodelled for hybrid working, and an inclusive, supportive culture provided her longed-for fresh start. 

Her most optimistic expectations were surpassed when she met Managing Director Phil Jones MBE for the first time. The welcome she received from the company’s leader was genuine, informal and spontaneous. Brother UK is a major business, but its culture fosters the close working relationships typically enjoyed by smaller companies. 

“It’s crazy how supportive everyone is and how comfortable it feels to work here. I could tell by how nice people were to me. It feels like one big family, and I think that’s what Phil has strived for. He has a real passion for the company’s culture,” Chloe says.

“Phil knew my name on the first day, which I thought was absolutely amazing. It was by chance that I walked past his office to get a drink. He looked up and said, ‘Oh, Chloe, come in. I’d like to meet you.’ I was thinking: ‘You know who I am?’”

Study, Buddy 

Apprentices study for 20 per cent of their working week. Friday is Chloe’s designated day to learn from materials supplied by training provider NowSkills, overseen by tutor Sidra Zeb. Case studies form much of Chloe’s programme and cover topics such as general marketing principles, computer science and social media marketing. 
“From the outset, Brother UK and my training provider agreed that I would spend 20 per cent of my working week on study time. Every member of the marketing team works from home on a Friday, so it’s the ideal day for me to get my head down,” Chloe says.

Chloe has been supported by line manager Victoria Cochrane, who is also her apprentice “buddy”. A buddy is an experienced colleague and not always the apprentice’s manager. Often, they work in separate areas of the business. Victoria, however, has combined the responsibilities of manager and guide to Chloe’s advantage. 

“Victoria holds monthly check-ins. She asks if I need support with my work and apprenticeship studies. We also have a weekly session where we look at tasks to be completed that week. Victoria advises me which to prioritise and encourages me to reach across if I need support,” she says. 

Way to go

Chloe is already mindful of her end-point assessments, the final stage of her apprenticeship, independently examined. By continuing to meet the targets in her appraisals from Brother and remaining up to date with her assignments and case studies, she will give herself the best opportunity of being awarded her apprenticeship. 

The end-point assessment could, ultimately, determine the future of her career with Brother UK. Few companies, however, having invested in training an apprentice, wish to lose them so early in their careers. Nevertheless, Chloe is determined to do everything in her power to impress those who will decide her future.

“I’ll finish my apprenticeship work by September or October. Brother will be able to consider my assignments, but also any projects that I’ve led, any big pieces of work, how I’ve integrated with the company, my productivity, appraisals, how I fit into the culture and things like that,” she says. 

Chloe is focussed on building a career with Brother UK and, ultimately, would like to manage a small team within the company. Whatever her future holds, she is already convinced of the value of an apprenticeship and doesn’t hesitate to recommend the opportunity for work-based learning to other young people. 

“Don’t be restricted by the idea that university is the only valid pathway. You shouldn’t think: ‘I have to go to university because I want a diploma.’ If you want to learn on the job and benefit from the experience of other professionals, apprenticeships are definitely the way to go.”


The future’s bright

Sam has been instrumental in developing Brother UK’s modern apprenticeship scheme since its introduction ten years ago. She believes modern apprenticeships celebrate young people and challenge the perceptions of work-based training for Wayne’s generation and hers. The days of corporate indifference to a young person’s development have passed, she believes. 
She foresees a bright future for modern apprenticeships. Sam recognises that certain barriers remain - students impressed by the enduring prestige of university, schools targeted on placements in further and higher education, businesses challenged to take a long-term view - but she is convinced of the value of work-based learning.
“The young people I interview are amazing. Many become ‘reverse mentors’ to our more experienced colleagues, helping them to learn new ways of working. Recently, some of our most senior staff have used apprenticeships to upskill. There is still some way to go, but the perception of apprenticeships is changing.” 

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