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Improving apprenticeships through better mentor support. Ashley Goldman at Vocate Training talks...

In the latest episode in the Demystifying Apprenticeships series, Rubitek’s founder and CEO, Kerry Linley talks to her latest guest who is the founder of a successful apprenticeship training provider, director of a recruitment company and also a careers and enterprise advisor to two local schools.

Ashley Goldman describes himself as a passionate ambassador for apprenticeships and talks to Kerry about the mentor support programme that Vocate Training have developed and how they are going the extra mile to ensure the people who support apprentices, are equipped with the right tools to do the best job.

Transcript

Kerry Linley: On today’s podcast I am speaking to a training provider that is changing the way employers think about apprenticeships. They are using the latest hi-tech teaching and monitoring tools, delivering agile and flexible blended learning and going the extra mile to make sure that apprentice mentors understand how they can provide the best support to their learners. I am delighted to welcome from Vocate Training – Ashley Goldman.

Kerry Linley: Welcome to the podcast, Ashley.

Ashley Goldman: Hi Kerry.

Kerry Linley: Ashley, tell me how long have you and the team at Vocate Training been delivering apprenticeships and why did you get into it in the first place?

Ashley Goldman: Well, we are quite a young provider and we've been now delivering for over... just over two years and we got into it through, we've been involved in running our own business for 15 years and a friend of ours suggested that it might be a good idea that we'd investigate the apprenticeship world, because he felt that the way we head our business ethos would work well within the apprenticeship environment and it needed a bit of a shake up, not the we’re going to change the world overnight, but we've aimed it to be local, we’re based on the south coast and we do a lot of work with East and West Sussex and we wanted to try and change the perception of the apprentice world.  That's the biggest struggle that we face, or the apprenticeship world faces, is the, I think, employer negativity about apprenticeships, and also with the schools, they don’t necessarily know a huge amount about what opportunities there are available out there for their kids in school. So that is a massive thing for us as well. Three of us within our business are what is known as enterprise advisors to two or three different schools in Sussex.  Enterprise advisors sit with the career leads of each school and help them develop a careers programme for the students. So, we are heavily involved with that, so, we are trying to do what we can at a low level to get to talk about apprenticeships within the schools and also to change employers' perceptions of apprenticeships as well.

Kerry Linley: I saw something today, that was either in FE Week or FE News and it’s Kenneth Baker is calling for a change in the law around the information advice and guidance that schools must give to young people, which speaks exactly to the problem that, you know, the thing that first triggered you wanting to become probably an enterprise adviser, but definitely an apprenticeship training provider.

Ashley Goldman: Totally, it has become clear to us and that is not due to the fault of the people that are, who are given the task of being the careers lead, but the school that I was working with, or the school, I have worked with two schools, one - the careers lead was head of maths, and one - was head of geography.  They have no experience in either getting a job themselves, or no real experience in getting a job themselves, the head of maths had gone from a maths teacher and worked her way up through the system and the geography teacher was, been a geography teacher since she left university. So, I can’t understand how schools are giving this, such an important role, to people who do not have the experience on teaching kids what is out there, and letting them, giving them a lot more information about that, and also, how to get the jobs that they want. It is not just a case of flinging off a CV and hope for the best like everybody else seems to do in this country. You know, so, we are hoping to change the way information is given to the kids, and also work with the kids with CV workshops, interview workshops, which we have done a few now online. We have had interactive sessions with another school, Sir Robert Woodard in Lancing, where we, they had all the year, is it year elevens?

Kerry Linley: Yes, that is year elevens, just finishing their GCSE’s, yes.

Ashley Goldman: They came on to a, like a web-based event and there were about 20 odd employers there and they were just there asking us what we did for a living, which I thought was great, because all these kids seem to have is the experience of their teachers, the experience of their parents, and it is quite two dimensional about what, what information is there for them. You know, there are 750 different apprenticeships out there… you can go to college, you can go to university, which are the traditional ways of doing things, but why get into debt, if, you know, if you don’t know what to do, which not many people necessarily know what to do.  I didn’t, I just fell into a job once, when I was… I got a first proper job when I was 28.

Kerry Linley: I think mymum clipped me round the ear and said ‘go and get a job, you need to start paying rent’. So, you know, I finished school at 16.

Ashley Goldman: Absolutely! I started earning when I was 14 in a big hotel, just doing kind of room service and I just always worked, I always had the mentality of wanting new things and, you know, it was just something, that I wanted to do.

Kerry Linley: So, the enterprise adviser role, I know that that is not what we are here to talk about, but I do want to touch on it really quickly. I’ve been an enterprise adviser and I think it’s a great role to have and it’s part of the careers and enterprise company initiative and the idea is, that you are a strategic, it’s a strategic role - working with the senior leadership team, in a school, to help them make the link between: what they’re delivering in a classroom and what’s out there from an employer perspective, and trying to tie the curriculum in with work experience, and just really, sort of, making the connection between the world of work and what’s happening in the school. How, are you finding that you’re having to perform quite an operational role, so, things like running those, the interview days that you were just talking about?

Ashley Goldman: Yeah, the CV workshops and the interview workshops.

Kerry Linley: Yes. I mean, that is quite a sort of a grassroots delivery, as opposed to being a strategic voice, as part of the schools' careers information advice and guidance role. And I certainly found that I had to have feet in both camps, are you finding the same thing?

Ashley Goldman: Totally. More probably both feet in a delivery type role where as we, you know, we use our experience and deliver that and put that over to the kids. Hopefully, in a fun and informative way. And if we can change the life of one person, or change, not change their life, that sounds a bit grandiose, but if we could just point one person in the direction, where they may have not thought of going - our job’s done.

Kerry Linley: Okay. It yes, it was very rewarding when I did it, so, hat off to you really. What makes what you do - different from other apprenticeship training providers? So, you have talked about - why you wanted to do apprenticeships in the first place, the lack of general guidance that young people have in particular around what options there are available to them, when it comes to the world of apprenticeships, but what makes what you do - different from the other 1500 - 2000 apprenticeship training providers that are out there?

Ashley Goldman: Well, we came into it with an understanding of what our current employers and current clients were saying about apprenticeships and their experience of apprenticeships, which was reasonably negative, with lack of support from the training provider, sending any old person through just because they said they wanted an apprentice, or they wanted an apprenticeship and the, anybody who applied for an apprenticeship seemed to think it was their divine right to be given an apprenticeship. So, we listened to that, and we thought well, if we ran our business, our current business like that, we are gonna, you know, we’re not gonna be around for very long. So, we figured, if that’s what we’re up against as far as competition, then, and with the, with one of our guys James who has, who had a few years working within the, for a local training provider and he was able to tell us, you know, if we, if we were, we used our business ethos within the apprenticeship world, we should be able to do reasonably ok, so, we came into it with an understanding of the negativity around apprenticeships, both from the employers and potentially the apprentices as well. So, we spent 20 odd years making sure that candidates match employers in recruitment and making sure that we get the right person for the right job, so, why couldn’t we do that in apprenticeships.

Kerry Linley: So, for you it was about taking the experience with your recruitment business and applying that to the apprenticeship model. Making sure that you are getting the right candidates, they are good candidates, they match the employers' requirements and then, also, improving the quality of the training that you are delivering to those learners.

Ashley Goldman: 100%, yes.

Kerry Linley: Okay. So Ashley you know, that the thing I am most passionate about when it comes to apprenticeships, and it is why I founded Rubitek in the first place, is how employers and training providers really need, they have a responsibility, to work together, to ensure an apprentice remains that a) that they are the right fit for the apprenticeship in the first place, but then during the apprenticeship they remain motivated and engaged, because it is only through that, that we can get them to completion. So, spotting potential disengagement and intervening at the right time can be key to whether or not an apprentice completes. What are your thoughts on that, in terms of why you set up as a training provider and the significant role that that has to play in quality outcomes?

Ashley Goldman: In a way we’ve… we are the middleman and we kind of make things happen in recruitment anyway. So, it’s about managing expectations, managing, getting the mentors involved and for the first year, a big issue for us was mentor involvement. One company we had eight apprentices in different offices, over the south coast and the Midlands and all of them, bar the ones that were working in head office, which were four of them, the rest suffered massively with no employer engagement.  Their mentors didn’t have any idea of what is required of them, for the apprentices to complete their apprenticeship and what support the mentors really needed to give them. So, in many cases the mentor is appointed by a business head, or a business lead, or a head of department and said, ‘you’re going to be, you’re going to manage little Jonny through his apprenticeship’, ‘oh okay, all right, what does that mean?’, ‘well just make sure he does his work’, and kind of that’s it. And it doesn’t work. So, we quickly started, we saw where the issue was, and one of the issues is at the mentor level. So, when we sign up apprentices now, we have a mentor induction day as well or a mentor induction morning, where we talk through the entire apprenticeship with the mentor, explain what is necessary and what they’re input is and, you know, we are there for as much the mentor, as we are the apprentice, and more often than not - now we have as much interaction with the mentors, as we do with the apprentices - which is fantastic.  But at the beginning we weren’t doing it and one company I had to get the business, or get the mentors, there was four different mentors in one Zoom meeting and that was a two hour meeting explaining what the role of the mentor was. After that things kind of sorted themselves out, but it’s, it’s due to a lack of education and understanding, that the mentors were a lot of, where their problems were coming from.

Kerry Linley: And I liken that, a little bit, in a similar way to… when you are promoted into management, so, lots of people are promoted into management, well I would imagine the majority are, because they have done a good job in a position that’s not management. So, you know, if you look at… let us take an apprentice as an example, so, digital marketing apprentice does the training, gets the qualification, gets the experience on the job and then they have a couple of years’ experience working at that level and then they are promoted to be digital marketing manager with a team underneath them. Now, that’s great, because it’s fantastic progression, but very few people when they are promoted are given any training on how to then manage the people that are now working for them, or that they are now responsible for. And it is a very similar thing I think with apprentice mentors, so they are not given that training on how they can support their apprentices, make sure that they are on, you know, they are on track to achieve, they are getting the right experience in the workplace to support the thing that they are doing in their apprenticeships so the thing that they are learning about. And it strikes me that it is a sort of a… it is a very similar issue to the management issue that I have just described.

Ashley Goldman: It is, totally. And if people who haven’t been through the apprenticeship journey either, it is, just creates a lack of understanding, and it generates frustration with the apprentice as well, because they, they’re kind of, you know, left to their own devices a little bit. Yes, Covid hasn’t helped and yes, you know, not being in an office, you know, isn’t necessarily ideal, but, yes, the two companies I can think of in particular have really disappointed me. So, to the point where we’ve almost withdrawn the apprentices from the programme. Thankfully, those guys have, or the apprentices have now, you know, started to realise that they are not going to get that much support from the employer, and they are cracking on, almost by themselves, which is a bit sad.

Kerry Linley: It is a bit sad, so they, you know, their chances are, if they complete and they complete well - it is almost in spite of the support, that they haven’t had. So, I am going to call this approach that you have to supporting mentors to help their apprentices, your mentor support programme and since you have started delivering the mentor support programme, what has been the impact for not just the employers, but your learners and also on your organisation as a training provider? what positives have you seen?

Ashley Goldman: In one word – engagement. We, you know… I mentioned that, that company who had a number of apprentices with no mentor support and how that introduction has changed things for them, but it also… it has made us up our game and make sure that we were fastidious about making sure the, the mentors are educated about their apprentices’ learning. And what, what’s it done for our businesses is – it’s developed our businesses, it has taken us that one step further. It’s, I’d like to think it’s provided a more of a better deliverable and understanding of why what the apprenticeships are, and what work is needed from both the employer and the apprentice to complete. There is a lot of work, there’s eight hours' worth of work to do a week, and if you’ve got to do ten assignments, twelve assignments throughout that, throughout that apprenticeship. that’s a lot of work to do, plus the other, you know, the modules that, it’s a lot of work and you know, it’s if the apprentices aren’t supported, they can very easily become overwhelmed and when that happens, you know, they get behind, and they get behind, and they get behind and then the pressure builds. So, they need to be supported by the mentor, they need to be given the time, which was another thing that wasn’t happening, they weren’t being given the time to do their apprenticeship work, which we all know should be done within office hours, within the workplace. They, these guys would be doing it at night and over the weekends, just trying to catch up and then that is not the case.

Kerry Linley: It's not a fair approach, is it? To expect apprentices to do that outside of work, but you made a point a few minutes ago and that was around managers who have themselves been through an apprenticeship may well have a slightly better understanding of what’s expected of the apprentice, but I would imagine, even if you are providing your mentor support programme to managers who, or mentors, who have themselves previously done an apprenticeship, so much has changed over recent years, that they would still benefit from the mentor support programme.

Ashley Goldman: Totally. And, to be fair it probably doesn’t really make any difference, whether they’ve gone through an apprenticeship or not, because, as you say it has changed, you know, it has changed over the standards in the last couple of years from the frameworks which are entirely different. It doesn’t matter whether they’ve been through it or not, it’s about support and encouragement all the way through the process, for both mentor and an apprentice.

Kerry Linley: And you mentioned as well, apprentices can very easily fall behind and that is one of those key disengagement moments, isn’t it? Spotting disengagement early and putting something in place to prevent it from becoming a real issue, can make the difference between whether or not an apprentice completes.

Ashley Goldman: Absolutely. Well, when we first started delivery, the reviews that you’re supposed to have, you know, we took the guidance and they were saying up to, up to 12 weeks, you know, have a review every 12 weeks, which we kind of, we did that to start with, because as a training provider there is so much information out there, that unless you have help from another training provider, you’re not 100% sure what you’re supposed to do.

Kerry Linley: The guidance isn’t black and white, is it, as to what you need to do, and you have got a broad framework and you need to operate within that framework, but actually you need to start living and breathing and delivering apprenticeships in order to work out what works best for you, yes, I completely get that.

Ashley Goldman: Yes. And so, we quickly realised, that twelve weeks, between reviews for apprentices was far too long, so we brought that down…

Kerry Linley: Too much can happen…

Ashley Goldman: Yes, too much can happen, yes, three months is a long time in any apprenticeship, in any job, to be fair, so, we switched that to four weeks. Now, which seems, I mean, four weeks is probably a little bit overkill and that created extra work for ourselves, which was fine, but it’s finding the balance and finding the balance that works better for an employer and that particular apprentice. Some employers might be absolutely fantastic, 100% support and, you know, those reviews can happen, you know, not as often, but as a rule we try to do our reviews every six weeks now.  You know, we’d gone from twelve weeks, then we went to four, that was probably a bit much and now we’re at six weeks.

Kerry Linley: So, the programme is really delivering some tangible results.

Ashley Goldman: Absolutely, yeah. All of our apprentices, that have gone through now have got distinctions - we are really, really pleased with that.  We’ve got through our Ofsted report or visit, our monitoring visit, so very pleased with that. We have got a load of people going through EPA this month as well, so, yes, it’s exciting times.

Kerry Linley: Lots of reasons to be happy. This podcast series is about demystifying apprenticeships and our aim in that is quite simple, so, we want to improve apprenticeship outcomes and put simply that means driving up the quality of apprenticeship programmes and increasing their number of apprenticeship completions. So, by demystifying we want to bust some of the myths that exist, so, I think in the intro we talk about ‘apprenticeships are not just for young people’ any age can do an apprenticeship. I think the average age of an apprentice on the Rubitek platform is mid-40s, you know, so, by no stretch of the imagination are they for sixteen, seventeen, eighteen-year old’s solely now. Given everything you’ve said about the impact of your mentor support programme, what advice would you give, and this is a two-part question, so firstly, to an employer who is thinking about working with a training provider, so choosing their training provider for the first time, and secondly, to a training provider considering how it can take a leaf out of your book and better support the people within the employer organisation, who are, as we have said, often thrown in at the deep end when it comes to mentoring or supervising an apprentice, what advice would you give?

Ashley Goldman: To a training provider is – communication, without a shadow of a doubt is, lots and lots of communication and not leaving apprentices to their own devices. It’s a no brainer but communication is key and if you don’t communicate relationships breakdown. And sorry, what was the first question again?

Kerry Linley: So, to the employer thinking about ‘who am I going to entrust the training of my apprentices? How do I choose a training provider?’ What advice would you give them?

Ashley Goldman: I would ask how the programs are being delivered.  In this new world we live in, the chances are that is going to be 100% online, depending on vocational apprenticeships, but I think every time I speak to a new employer, you know, they want to understand how each apprentice is going to be, apprenticeship will be delivered, how that apprentice is supported. So, it is for an employer, if I was going to employ the apprentice, which we will do at some point, I’d be wanting to know how the, what the programme is, how it is delivered, what are the pressure points of that, what is expected from me as an employer, and how much support do I need to give that apprentice, and find someone that you feel, that you can work with. That goes without saying, but, you know, there’s quite a few training providers out there, so, I would suggest you pick up the phone and, and not necessarily shop around, but just talk to people who you... you’re gonna feel comfortable, and who align to your thought process on how you feel the apprenticeship should be taught.

Kerry Linley: Really good advice, thank you! And, and I guess it’s no different to choosing any other supplier, is it? You want to work with people who are going to do the best job for you. And, you know, it does not matter whether you pay the apprenticeship levy, or not as an employer. Either way you are purchasing the training from the training provider, and you want to get quality and ultimately those completions and achievements at the end and making sure learners have a good experience.

Ashley Goldman: That’s key! Is making sure the learners have a good experience and they come out of other end with the qualifications and that they worked so hard for and enjoy it. Not enough employers, they don’t consider the long term implications of hiring an apprentice.  It’s not just hiring somebody for cheap labour. It’s hiring somebody because you want to hire them and you want to develop them and you want them to become part of your business and you want them to grow with your business, and you’re not there as an employer to provide a job, you are there to provide somebody an opportunity to grow and develop and add value to what you offer as a business at the same time.

Kerry Linley: Completely agree with that. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you this afternoon, I have really enjoyed your description of how your mentor support programme is helping not just apprentices, but employers as well. And your own organisation and long may it continue, and I hope anybody listening to this, presumably you are happy if anybody listening to this - wants to get in touch and have a chat with you about the mentor support programme.

Ashley Goldman: I am happy to talk to anyone about apprenticeships and trying to dispel a few myths.

Kerry Linley: Fabulous!

Ashley Goldman: Which we seem to be up against.

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