Can you provide a quick overview of your business?
APTCOO, a local grass roots charity based in Mansfield, provides county wide specialist support services for families living with special educational needs, disabilities and life limiting conditions. APTCOO has recently expanded and is now an approved alternative education provider working with a specialist cohort of students offering a bespoke programme of educational programmes for students who are not in mainstream education.
When did the business first start recruiting apprentices?
Why did your business consider offering an apprenticeship?
We have delivered support to young people with SEND (and their families) for the past 25 years and more recently we have expanded by becoming an alternative education provider for young people with additional needs. As our organisation has expanded we realised we needed to increase the skills set of the workforce including business administration, ICT, and health and social care.
We wanted to support our local community by offering young people an opportunity to develop their skills and transition into our workforce. We were keen to offer an all-inclusive apprenticeship offer as we are aware that success rates for those with SEND, including mental ill health, are consistently lower than other groups – we wanted to dispel the perception that they are less likely to succeed than their more able counterparts and move them away from a benefit culture. APTCOO is committed to breaking down barriers and offering a ‘ladder of opportunity’ for young people with additional needs.
Employing an apprentice has been a cost effective way to expand our business, but more importantly it has given us the chance to ‘grow our own workforce’ and provide our apprentices with the skills our organisation needs. CEO Carol Burkitt comments: “I hope that businesses will be inspired to get involved in recruiting an apprentice and see for themselves how they can help to build a skilled, motivated and highly qualified workforce”.
How did/does the recruitment process work?
We held a very different kind of recruitment process for our apprentices. They were invited to complete application forms but instead of a formal interview, we held an assessment day which focused on a series of activities. We adopted this approach to eliminate any fears, worries or anxieties, enabling the applicants with SEND to demonstrate their strengths and abilities through practical exercises that included building Bee Homes, undertaking a communication exercise via our Talk about Talk communication tool and preparing a meal as part of a team and eating together.
What are / were your first impressions of apprenticeships? And the apprentice you recruited?
The apprentices have brought diversity into the workplace in terms of age, attitude and ability. They have brought a fresh new perspective to tasks and have been incredibly beneficial particularly in terms of their ICT skills.
How did you help your apprentices settle into the business?
APTCOO have developed a unique 3-6-3 approach to supporting young people into an apprenticeship. This involves a nurture period where, as a team we embark on a journey of discovery, cultivating their hidden talents, this is followed by 6 months in the workplace to develop their employability skills and finally a 3 months preparing for employment period where the apprentices work with our own Careers Adviser who supports the young people with job search activities, completing application forms and CV’s and interview practice.
Do your apprentices have any specific support – induction process, mentors, additional training, etc, that you feel brings additional benefit to the business and apprentice?
APTCOO worked in partnership with a local training provider PROSTART in order to deliver an interactive induction process. The process lasted a week and was very detailed so that the young people were prepared for their next steps into employment. Each apprentice had full-time mentor support within the workforce so that they had support with each task. Our level 3 apprentice also acts as a peer mentor for the new recruits and this has been a great help to them whilst also improving her confidence. We are in the process of working with a local organisation on the Building Better Opportunities initiative in order to recruit a business mentor with an IT specialism for one of our apprentices so that he can gain additional employability support within this area and this will in turn benefit our business.
APTCOO have offered extensive training opportunities for our apprentices as we are keen to ensure that they are well qualified in every aspect of the business. This includes the mandatory Equality and Diversity, Safeguarding, and Prevent Duty training but also ‘Talk about Talk’ training – this is a communication tool for people with SEND – MAPA (Management of Actual and Potential Aggression) training, Paediatric First Aid and Reception training to name a few.
APTCOO is a registered Wiki Centre of Excellence (this is a social media tool which enables young people with SEND to share their personal life stories, achievements and hopes for the future). After undertaking Wiki training, through the Rix Research Centre, University of East London, APTCOO became a centre of Excellence, one of our apprentices who has become the local WIKI champion achieved the highest accolade of becoming a Wiki Master and now assists parents and young people in developing their own social media Wiki, to become authors of their own life stories.
How far has your apprentice progressed in your business to date? How far have previous apprentices progressed?
Success stories include progression to level 3, full time employment (internal and external), together with work experience from local businesses.
What challenges, if any, have you found with recruiting apprentices?
Holistic support is required from the partnership between employer, training provider and home to support the highs and lows of young people at what can be a critical time for them transitioning into adulthood and the workplace. A likeminded committed agreement is needed between all partners.
What do you see as being the main benefits to your business?
We can develop new talent to meet our organisational needs together with new skills, energy and insight whilst giving a young person a career opportunity.
What are your ambitions for the future of apprenticeships and / or the future of your apprentice in your business?
To support young people with their transition into employment, APTCOO is currently planning to deliver internships, traineeships and a pre-apprenticeship programme in addition to our current 3:6:3 programme in 2017. We realise that some young people need a step by step transition into the workplace and our plan is to help young people to learn about the world of work in a safe and nurturing environment.
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the SME newcomer award and being listed as a Top 100 employer, how has the team found the experience?
APTCOO is a small grass roots local charity; to reach the dizzy heights of national apprenticeships, and becoming one of the top 100 employers is monumental. We are a committed and motivated workforce from top to bottom, driven by the changes we make to young people’s lives. Overlooking the disability and finding the ability, developing new talents, skills, energy and insight is the norm for APTCOO, work has become a privilege and something that we all belong to, like our new mantra – ‘happiness is an inside job!’.