9 November 2014

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Paying a visit to the House of Commons

It’s always a positive when the government reaches out to businesses to help with issues directly affecting the economy, especially when it comes to education and employability.

Learning has always been a part of UKFast, if you consider that Gail and I knew virtually nothing about web hosting when we set out on this crazy venture. Suffice to say, it was a steep learning curve for the first few years. Even now, we’re still finding out new things about our company, ourselves and the industry we operate in.

Embracing the learning element fully with our own training facility seemed like a natural next step and it’s safe to say my expectations have been well and truly exceeded by the work our trainers have done, especially with the apprenticeship scheme. With this in mind, it seems fitting that they were offered the chance to speak on the subject in the House of Commons last week. The event was the Apprenticeships Parliamentary Reception – an opportunity to discuss the future of apprenticeships (but with a fancier title).

After a drop in the number of people with actual trades in the last few years, it’s great to see such a push for vocational training. Yet for some reason, apparently only 10% of businesses have apprenticeships at the moment. We need to get that percentage up! Skilled tradespeople are what this country needs and will always be willing to pay for. The notion that going to university and being academic is somehow better than learning and developing on the job is outdated in my opinion. I cut my teeth on the shop floor, learning things that can’t be taught in a classroom or a lecture hall.

Whilst some businesses see apprenticeships as a hassle and something that doesn’t offer them anything, I would argue the opposite. You can find potential everywhere and it’s often far easier to recognise by looking in someone’s eyes for that grit and determination than by staring down at a CV.

I remember taking a bunch of kids in the early years of UKFast. I think we were still selling mobile phones at that point (a slight diversion on our journey) and whilst their teacher seemed worried about how they would take to working with us, I quickly began to notice the potential these boys had.

One day, I took two of them out of the office to get suited up at a Slater’s Menswear; from hoodies into slick jackets. When they arrived back into the office – a seed of what it is now – I think everyone did a double take. It was a real lesson in not taking anybody at face value. People always have more to offer – sometimes you just need to show them a new side of themselves and introduce them to the potential you see in them.

This is what business is about for me: inspiring and motivating your team. What is the point of getting to the top and having nobody to share the achievement with? This is why you will always see us in groups huddled together at the summit of Snowdon. Success is much sweeter with good company and it’s never something you achieve singlehandedly.

If your business is moving up a level, why not take someone on to join you on your journey; someone with the energy and willingness to learn along the way? Even if it’s just a handful of apprentices, I can promise you, if they get your company culture, they will add as much value as you give them in learning and experience. It’s a symbiotic relationship – a trade of experience and skills for future talent – so both parties benefit. I’m surprised more businesses haven’t cottoned onto this yet. The one requirement of this, in my mind, is that apprentices are treated with the same support given to your existing team, and paid a fair wage while they learn and work with you.

Personally, I’ve been impressed and inspired by the fresh ideas and enthusiasm our apprentices have brought to the table and many of them are now working full time with us, some as support engineers. In my mind, apprenticeships are the way forward and the best way to create the skilled, confident generation our future needs.

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