A few weeks ago, our local supermarket was taken over by Waitrose. The transformation was remarkable. Apart from the fact that the car park was now totally jammed, the whole experience of shopping suddenly became a pleasure. The huge display of flowers in the foyer, the array of fresh-baked bread as you walked through the door, happy smiling staff who genuinely seemed eager to help, the wide well-lit aisles and an astonishing range of fresh products which somehow seemed to be exactly what you were looking for. And yes, it was all more expensive than the previous occupants (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty), but clearly customers were prepared to accept that in return for quality and great service.
The secret of Waitose’s success is summed up in the series of adverts currently appearing in the glossy magazines. Next to a photo of the smiling Waitrose employee runs the tag line:
“Everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose and when you own something you care a little more”
I hope that the opponents of the Reform programme which puts ownership of Apprenticeships into the hands of employers, will take note of the Waitrose success story because it is not an isolated case. In the many varied leadership roles which I have undertaken throughout my career, I learnt very quickly that people are engaged, not by telling them what to do, but by giving them full responsibility to deliver a successful task or project. That’s a philosophy which is shared almost universally and has been one of the most fundamental changes in management style over the last few decades.
Change Is Not An Easy Process
Of course, currently Apprenticeships are mainly “owned” by training providers and I think that much of the opposition to the proposed changes is based on their reluctance to let go of their baby. That of course is a perfectly natural reaction. Handing over control can be a scary process. “How will they cope without my direction and input?” you will ask and invariably the answer is “very well indeed” as they develop their own ideas and processes.
The challenge for us as training providers is to adapt to this new role. It will no longer be down to us to “run” or “own” Apprenticeship programmes. We become coaches, mentors and expert advisors, helping to facilitate a process rather than manage it directly. That role, whilst very different is if anything even more important and valuable than trying to run the whole Apprenticeship programme ourselves.
We have worked in this way with a number of different companies over the last few years and in all honesty, I can say that it is a far more rewarding and satisfying experience than trying to run an entire programme on behalf of an employer who has no real interest other than the opportunity to get some “free” training out of the government.
Trailblazers Are Showing The Way
Over 400 companies of all sizes have already signed up to the Trailblazers scheme which will lead the Reform programme and in September, hundreds more will join them. Many of those companies will be new to the Apprenticeship project and many more will be new to the whole concept of “ownership”. Training providers have a fantastic opportunity to provide the support which these companies will need and that is where our focus should be rather than on desperately trying to retain control of the programme.
These reforms aren’t perfect by any means and there will be many issues to address, particularly with regard to support for “micro-companies”. However if the UK Apprenticeship programme gains the same esteem as Waitrose and is held in the same high regard by its “customers”, I for one will be delighted because then we will genuinely have a world-class programme and that is something we all want, whatever our different views about the best way to get there.
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills