Great Annual Savings Group (GAS) is a 100 strong business based in Seaham, County Durham. The business launched its apprenticeship scheme 18 months ago with an ambition to attract in local talent and provide long term career prospects. The scheme has been hugely successful for the business and the apprentices and led to the business winning the SME Newcomer Award at the North East Apprenticeship Awards, and Highly Commended at the National Apprenticeship Awards.
Can you provide a quick overview of your business?
Great Annual Savings Group specialises in giving businesses the ability to control their running costs. By providing procurement advice, signposting and contract negotiation, GAS allows other businesses to improve their bottom line through great cost savings.
When did the business first start recruiting apprentices?
Our Apprenticeship Scheme launched in October 2015 and had a second intake in October 2016. We’ve now got 12 Apprentices overall.
Why did your business consider offering an apprenticeship?
At GAS we’ve always been committed to creating high quality career opportunities in our local area, which has traditionally suffered from a high level of unemployment. As part of the economic renaissance of County Durham, we wanted to extend these opportunities to young people fresh out of school or college and provide an exciting opportunity to learn a profession whilst earning a wage. In true GAS style, the Group’s commitment to going above and beyond resulted in the creation of a scheme which not only offers our apprentices more responsibility and opportunity than an average Apprenticeship; it also pays higher wages and offers an individually tailored performance bonus to really drive our apprentices into the world of work.
How did/does the recruitment process work?
In the second year, the first cohort of Apprentices helped recruit the second cohort, playing a key role in the nurturing of candidates from assessment stage to final hiring. During both intakes, GAS held open events, assessment days and two stages of interviews before the successful candidates were chosen. More than 800 candidates applied cumulatively over the course of both intakes for 12 eventual placements.
What are / were your first impressions of apprenticeships? And the apprentice you recruited?
We were determined to make the Apprenticeship Scheme head and shoulders above other opportunities to not only maximise the value for apprentices, but also for the business. Apprentices were quickly given projects and processes to own themselves and high amounts of responsibility. Perhaps slightly surprisingly, every one of them flourished and are all now integral parts of the departments they work in. All of them are more confident people in general since joining the Group and a number of them are unrecognisable in terms of skill and demeanour.
How did you help your apprentices settle into the business?
We held apprentice social events, which allowed them to get to know each other. They were accompanied by senior members of staff to help them get accustomed to the Group’s flat organisational structure and encourage them to engage with people of all levels.
Our apprentices feature regularly in staff communications and newsletters, such is the Group’s pride in the scheme and its recent successes. The apprentices are some of our most well-known members of staff. They were also offered discounted public transport as an incentive to help ease them into the habit of commuting.
Do your apprentices have any specific support – induction process, mentors, additional training, etc, that you feel brings additional benefit to the business and apprentice?
The Apprentices have plenty of support mechanisms, including:
– Full induction processes
– Assigned mentors
– Line managers
– Meet and greet sessions with previous year Apprentices
– Regular meetings with training partner reps to guide them through the academic side of their studies
– A newly appointed Apprentice Rep joins the usual Staff Rep in monthly board meetings to ensure the Apprentice voice is heard at the highest level at the business.
How far have your apprentices progressed in your business to date? How far have previous apprentices progressed?
Adam Brown, Marketing and Communications Manager, says of the Apprentice in his team:
“Our Marketing Apprentice, Rachel, has hit the ground running in her first four months at GAS. Not only has she made a big impression on other staff and improved her communication and technical skills in a range of areas; she has also aced her first assignment in her NVQ, submitting a piece of work that the assessor described as one of the finest first submissions they had come across.
Rachel has come out of her shell and shared her whole self – meaning the idiosyncrasies of her character and her own personal life skills, which the business has now benefited from. Our rigorous selection process ensured we took on hungry and motivated employees with the right attitude. Our scheme then ensured we created the most beneficial experiences possible for the participants and gained the most value for GAS.
Other apprentices around the group who are moving into their second year are now specialising in their chosen subjects and taking on industry qualifications from the likes of the CIPD and AAT. This is amazing considering they are only in their second year of employment.”
What challenges, if any, have you found with recruiting apprentices?
The sheer volume of applicants to GAS’ scheme meant that the process itself was lengthy, but it ensured that GAS ended up with the right apprentices. However, it was an enjoyable process for everyone involved.
What do you see as being the main benefits to your business?
In our business we’ve seen some brilliant ideas come from our apprentices. They bring a fresh outlook on the world and common business problems. It’s then down to the business and the individuals’ mentors to draw these nuggets out of them by providing an empowering environment.
More so than anything else, the opportunity for apprentices to put their own stamp on projects and processes that they are given responsibility for is the success of our scheme.
What are your ambitions for the future of apprenticeships and / or the future of your apprentice in your business?
We fully intend for all of our apprentices to be permanently employed and embark upon a long-term career with GAS. Success for us will be hiring more apprentices on an annual basis and continuing to grow the scheme as our business grows in size.
We believe all companies who are capable should give apprenticeships a chance – they will be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes and it makes good business sense!
Congratulations on receiving Highly Commended for the SME Newcomer Award at the National Apprenticeship Awards, how has the team found the experience?
In order to get so far in the competition, a lot of work and self assessment went into the application process. One of the best outcomes is that we’ve actually built on our scheme since the awards. We now have a designated ‘Apprentice Rep’, who is now invited to Board meetings monthly to represent that portion of our staff base.
Our Board have taken a keen interest in the progress of our young apprentices in the past with informal catch-ups, but wanted to formalise this as a way to demonstrate both our long-term commitment to their development and the constant evolution of the scheme.
We certainly enjoyed our visit to London for the national finals and felt like a part of a bigger movement when speaking to some of the country’s agenda-drivers such as Sue Husband and Robert Halfon MP.
Has your business been involved in any trailblazer groups that are developing new apprenticeship standards for job roles?
We are working with Talent Training UK Ltd on our apprenticeships – a number of which are apprenticeships standards designed by trailblazer groups, including Digital Marketing, Business Improvement and Energy Management.
In the past our apprentices have worked towards generic NVQs, but the newer ones are apprenticeship standards. This allows us to be more flexible with what we offer them in terms of experience.
The benefits of the new standards are that the apprenticeship is developed by experts in their field of study and relevant people the industry.
We also have a number of other staff working towards trailblazer designed standards outside of our apprentices, such is our commitment to helping our staff build a career.
The challenge has been waiting to get the standard approved. There are hundreds of new possibilities and there are always going to be teething issues at the start.