Rapanui is an incredibly successful, fast-growing ethical clothing brand based on the Isle of Wight and established by two brothers born and bred on the island – Rob and Martin Drake-Knight, aged 30 and 28 respectively. We caught up with Rob to find out how much of the enterprise’s success is due to its commitment to providing quality apprenticeships.
Having each studied at university, the Drake-Knight brothers returned to their family home on the Isle of Wight and quickly realised that employment opportunities for young people like themselves were scarce. Many jobs are seasonal and reliant on the tourism industry, making it difficult for young people to remain on the island all year round, as Rob explains:
“Although people perceive the Isle of Wight to be quite well off because of the ports like Ryde, Cowes, and Yarmouth, the island has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the country. The tourism industry means there’s cyclical unemployment, and a lack of enterprise means there’s not much opportunity for young people to go into jobs with prospects.”
Struggling to find the right stimulating jobs for themselves but still determined to remain on the Isle of Wight, the brothers decided that creating their own jobs was the best solution. Rapanui manufactures and sells clothing made from sustainable materials in factories powered by green energy. Rob and Martin describe the enterprise as ‘values based’ and this is something that extends beyond the product to define their approach to employment too:
“When it came to recruitment, we realised there were a lot of young people in a similar position to the one we’d been in. So, rather than look to employ people already on the career ladder, we decided apprenticeships were the right route. There’s a perception that you have to be a certain age to take on particular responsibilities but I think that’s a complete myth. I don’t think age matters in any way. Young people can do amazing things.”
Rapanui’s first young apprentice was Luke Davis, who joined the company in 2011 and now works in a dual role as both financial director and head of operations. Having been impressed with Luke’s contribution to the business, Rob and Martin wholeheartedly embraced the apprenticeship model. Rob says:
“It worked so well with Luke, we decided to expand it. Apprenticeships have become ingrained in the business. The whole idea of nurturing talent, mentoring people, and having a constant state of improvement and progression is central to the culture of Rapanui. What’s great is that development doesn’t stop when someone finishes their apprenticeship. They stay with us and continue to grow with the enterprise.”
Today, Rapanui employs 20 people, five who are currently doing apprenticeships and 15 who have graduated from an apprenticeship. Of nine apprentices who graduated this year, eight have stayed with the company in full time roles, illustrating the huge loyalty apprenticeships inspire. Rob says:
“We always intend for people to work here once they’ve finished their apprenticeship because of the time and energy we invest in them. Martin, myself and the former apprentices all actively mentor current apprentices. People appreciate that you’ve given them an opportunity, particularly if they were unemployed for a while before they came to work for you. The loyalty that inspires is really helpful to a business like Rapanui and it’s self-perpetuating.”
Apprentices at Rapanui stay in the workplace to receive their external training, which is primarily delivered by Smart Training and Recruitment. Depending on the roles they will ultimately fulfil, Rapanui apprentices have studied everything from IT to Customer Service and Management, all at Level 3.
“Apprenticeships correspond to our culture of growth, improvement and constant learning, everyone working together for positive change. Because the company’s also growing, the model fits really well. It’s a virtuous circle of investing in individuals’ growth and achieving sustainable business growth. We knew there was a lot of young talent on the island and this was a way for us to tap into that and develop it with new learning. Apprenticeships felt like the right thing to do for Rapanui.