I have to admit that there have been more inspiring times to join an Apprenticeship training company. In the midst of a global pandemic, with the world of Apprenticeships being ravaged by a lack of starts and Apprentices already in learning being furloughed the outlook did not look promising.
But what I found in SR Apprenticeships was a company that was quietly getting on with its business. Yes, starts were very low; yes, a large number of Apprentices had been furloughed; yes, the company had taken the difficult decision to furlough many of its staff. But having drawn a line and accepted what was what, the Executive Team had focused itself and the organisation on what was in its circle of control and admitted that there was less that could be done in its circle of influence or concern.
This has been the theme throughout the last few months as we have maintained a very clear focus on what we can and can’t control. Key to this has been the way that we manage our relationships. For me, this has not been a time to ask too much of relationships.
Externally, knowing that many of our clients were having a very difficult time, we appreciated that we weren’t going to be discussing starting large cohorts of Apprentices on programmes or recruiting high numbers of new Apprentices in businesses.
After the initial shock at the start of the pandemic, and over the summer as people got more used to working at home, we took the time to gradually speak to a wider group of influencers and decision makers in our clients. By taking the time to have conversations with people new to Apprenticeships, and with very little expectation of an immediate positive outcome, we built a pipeline of potential future customers aware of the impact that Apprenticeship could have in their organisations and aware of the way in which we go about our business. Now, as those Employers start to think about their investment in their staff and their businesses, they are returning to those conversations and Apprenticeships are at the forefront of their minds.
Internally, like all employers, our relationships became virtual overnight. For an organisation with Employees across the country, we were already used to managing remote relationships, but all of our staff were used to meeting people face to face on a daily basis. Whether a Coach working with an Apprentice, the office-based team meeting in their place of work or a manager meeting a team member for a one to one we were a company that thrived on human contact. Suddenly, like the vast majority of the rest of the country, we were consigned to our homes, in many cases managing home schooling, and always at the mercy of Zoom and Teams. I have been amazed at the speed by which the company adapted.
Our delivery to non-furloughed Apprentices went online immediately and the results that we achieved during that time speak for themselves. Management and planning meetings gained a new sense of drive and focus as we attempted to contain them to a defined time so that people could step away from their screens. Online team meetings were productive but instantly more ‘personal’ as we got a glimpse into peoples’ homes – this encouraged conversation and I believe we all know a little more about our colleagues than we did back in March. Finally, some of our families got to understand what it is that we actually do all day!
Into a New Year…
The result, as we head towards the end of this extraordinary year and look to what I hope will be a less traumatic 2021, the company is in a great place.
Some of us have taken the last few months to plan for the future. To think about our brand and how we present ourselves, to think about new programmes that respond to a very real Employer need, to speak to people who may well become future Employees of SR Apprenticeships and to take what we have learnt from this period and build the good things into the way that we work in the future.
I’m not sure what ‘great’ will look like in 2021 but if we build on the positivity that we have both externally and internally and deliver the plans that we have for the year, I will be very happy indeed.