Redrow Homes is one of the largest housebuilders in the UK, with multiple developments in over 50 locations across England and Wales.
With 14 offices, the company currently employs around 260 apprentices across many job specifications. HR Director Karen Jones tells Mark Blayney Stuart why the calibre of finance apprentices is increasing year-on-year.
What are the benefits for the business?
‘I find that our finance apprentices become really useful, really quickly,’ Karen says. ‘It takes just a few months for them to become incredibly effective; so the training pays off very quickly. We have a large head office finance team and apprenticeships work because they get to know our systems and procedures, while they’re attending college. Most of our apprentices go up in the ranks – we have someone who was a finance apprentice six years ago and is now a finance executive, for example.’
How do you source your apprentices?
‘It’s a mix – sometimes they come to us, and sometimes we find them via schools and sixth form colleges. We encourage employees from our regional offices to go into colleges and do talks.’ For Karen the situation is a win-win. ‘The apprentice incurs no cost at all. We cover all of it, and how that happens depends on the job spec; finance apprentices are on day release in order to enable them to study. The important thing is to give them the time they need to do the work.’ For most of Redrow’s apprentices, this is their first job; ‘so they tend to need a bit of support. We have an apprenticeships coordinator to help with the day-to-day – sometimes just realising the need to be in every day, on time, needs a bit of adjustment.’ Within three or four months, Karen says, the apprenticeships learn the importance of being professional as well as doing the job well; ‘they just need a bit of hand-holding to begin with, and then they’re away.’
What happens then?
‘We offer two routes. Apprentices can either do their AAT qualification and stop there, or if they want to carry on, continue to a senior CIMA qualification. We particularly like AAT because it’s a qualification in its own right, but can also be seen as a stepping stone if you want to go even further in your career.’ There are benefits to the organisation as well as the individual. ‘Most of our apprentices are younger people and those who have been there longer enjoy mentoring the youngsters. It’s very good for team building – you see the junior members blossoming and the older ones take pride in the development of those under their wing.’
What would you say to other companies thinking of taking on apprentices?
Apprenticeships are our preferred way of recruiting. You get a very high calibre of people applying nowadays – it’s very different from 20 years ago when apprenticeships were perhaps considered pejoratively, compared with getting a degree.’ Things are hugely different now, Karen argues, ‘because tuition fees have got so high that many excellent candidates are now choosing to get into the world of work early rather than go to university. Levels of debt are now so daunting that students are weighing it up and seeing the benefit of apprenticeships – you get the qualification, but you also get the career as well and you don’t incur a student loan. That’s very, very appealing to today’s school leavers.’
Does this mean we will see more apprenticeships in professional services?
‘We take on surveyors as apprentices too. A very similar route – we take them in, train them up, they do the work alongside it and can end up as Chartered Surveyors at the age of 23 or 24. No student debts, you build up your experience, and you come out qualified. It is a perfectly good route – and as a result, not only do we get good feedback from students, we get very positive reports from parents too!’ Being a student has become such a stressful, financially draining business in recent years that for Karen, the apprenticeship route takes the pressure off young people who want to build a successful career, but don’t want to saddle themselves with debt at an early age.
Is the apprenticeship levy a good or bad thing?
‘It will broaden the skill base generally and bring employers apprentices that they wouldn’t have had otherwise,’ Karen says. ‘Over the next decade it will broaden and we’ll see people with Level 3 skills in the workplace.’ For Karen, ‘the levy doesn’t change what we do – we already employed many apprentices, and we’ll carry on doing so. But for other employers who hadn’t taken an interest in apprentices, it will perhaps stimulate them to look into it – so that they can get some of their investment back.’ Broadly speaking, are large companies are happy with the apprenticeship levy? ‘I can’t pretend the extra costs are welcome, and there is a concern around admin – that part is very time-consuming, in order to get the contracts with the college fixed. But we are committed to it anyway, and we’re committed because it’s so effective.’
And a final thought?
‘For the younger person and the parent, always consider doing an apprenticeship. Don’t see apprenticeships as a stigma – they don’t preclude you from advancing career to senior level. Rather the reverse in fact – you can still get your qualifications and move upwards, as apprentices at Redrow are proving.’ Historically, there’s been the sense that apprenticeships might limit you compared with having a degree. For Karen, this simply isn’t true any more – the key is to go in with confidence and have the career expectations you would have from
Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.