Shining a spotlight on female founders
In the second of our posts celebrating International Women’s Day this week, we interview Rubitek’s founder and CEO, Kerry Linley, and find out what her motivation was to start a tech company in 2018.
Kerry Linley is no stranger to hard work. She was born the eldest of four girls and left school at 16, going straight into what was then a Youth Training Scheme, a kind of apprenticeship equivalent, earning £35 a week doing a business admin qualification. It seems archaic now, but Kerry learned to use an old-fashioned typewriter with an orange tied under her chin – the orange had pins sticking out of it - also known back then as a ‘how to learn to touch type without looking at the keyboard’ training device – ouch!
I use these skills every day of my life
As well as being the CEO and founder of Rubitek, Kerry is a busy mum and step mum to 5 children and her organisation skills are undoubtedly an asset. “I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some amazing female role models. I moved to a different country when I was 17 and took a job working as a personal assistant for a senior partner in a financial services firm. She was the first female outside of my family who really made an impression on me. I remember being completely blown away by how she managed to combine elegance, grace, compassion and professionalism”. That role taught me the importance of being organised, attention to detail and managing other people’s expectations.
So how did you get from PA to Apprenticeship Expert?
“Fast forward 20 years and I’d been working with construction supply chains for a number of local authorities who wanted to deliver apprenticeship outcomes on their projects, but sustainability was an issue. The short-term nature of typical construction work packages meant that contractors struggled to take on apprentices because they simply couldn’t guarantee continuity of work. I helped to set up and run the UK’s most successful shared apprenticeship scheme. We pieced together short-term apprenticeship durations across multiple projects, in effect jigsaw-puzzling together full apprenticeship durations. The scheme featured as a best practice case study in Governments ‘The Commission on Apprenticeships’ published in 2015, and in 2017 it won a number of awards for its industry busting success rates.”
So, what made you set up Rubitek and how did you come up with the name?
“Apprenticeship completion rates in England are too low. Our research estimates the average cost of losing an apprentice early is somewhere in the region of £50,000, when you consider the cost of recruitment, training, supervision, wages etc. There’s also a lifetime impact to the earning potential of the apprentice. There are many causes of non-completion and I’d learned to spot the early warning signs. Our average completion rate was 85% against an industry average of 57% - it was clear to me that with the help of technology, more employers and providers could improve apprenticeship outcomes. I set about designing the first platform that focused on improving apprentice retention, completion and progression outcomes. That’s how and why Rubitek (which is named after our pet dog Ruby who spent many hours sitting with me whilst I was designing the platform) was born.”
What’s it like being a female founder and CEO of a tech company?
It’s incredibly rewarding but then I imagine lots of founders, male and female would say that. I grew up the eldest of four girls with a lot of responsibility and have never considered my gender to be an issue. I also worked in a very male dominated industry for many years which has given me the confidence to make sure my voice is heard. I’m surrounded by an exceptional team of both men and women who are huge champions of female entrepreneurs. I’ve also had the privilege of taking part in a couple of accelerator programmes, including one specifically for women in tech (WiST). Support networks like this are invaluable and I would encourage any founder, male or female to get themselves a mentor.
You must have had some interesting moments along the way?
Too many to mention and I hope to write a book about my experiences one day. I did have an eyebrow raising moment quite recently, when a man I spoke to about doing some development work for Rubitek sent me a completely unsolicited link to an article, about why ‘older start-up founders are more successful’ and I remember not knowing whether to be flattered or offended. I did wonder whether he would have sent the article to me had I been a man!
What advice do you have for other female founders?
I can only speak for myself, but I genuinely don’t think it matters what gender you are – you need three things if you want to run a successful business. These are authenticity, resilience and grit. Authenticity – every day, all the time, because you can’t inspire trust without it. Resilience - to ensure you can sustain your energy levels under pressure, cope with changes and adapt to meet new challenges. And grit – you need to be unyielding in the face of adversity, extremely focused and loyal to your passions.
If you would like to learn more about Rubitek’s values, its culture, and what we are doing to make apprenticeships better for everyone, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0330 133 0540.