31 January 2016

I am a great believer in doing things differently and finding your own path. Its too easy to copy others, but its never a good idea as you don’t know if the person your are copying knows any more than you do. When you need great results, I’d always recommend taking some time to have a good think about what it is you are trying to achieve, preferably in a quiet place without noise or distraction, where you are much more likely to formulate a plan.

"Nothing is every black and white. The opportunity is hidden in the grey matter."

“Nothing is every black and white. The opportunity is hidden in the grey matter.”

A few years ago I was not happy with some of the things at UKFast. We were losing good talent and we were struggling to develop people fast enough to keep up with such a fast pace of growth.

I always head to the hills and go for long walks when I am searching for the answer to a big question. When I stopped to think, the answer was a clear as day.

Build the ultimate learning environment within UKFast. I even knew who’d head it up.

I remember reading a book years earlier on a holiday in France, I didn’t take a huge amount away from this book, but 2 things have always stuck with me since.

1/ A great quote from Bill gates, “A people hire A people, B people hire C people,”

2/ A revelation on motivation.

Up until this moment I’d always assumed that money was a big motivator. According to this book, money was NOT a great motivator and in a survey of employees, “learning and developing” figured as the number one factor in what people want in their career.

There was no doubt that people were learning fast, but were they reaching a relatively advanced level then moving on to capitalise on a bigger salary. We needed an environment where you never stop learning, you never stop developing.

The teachers @UKFast hold an Apprenticeship Event

The teachers @UKFast hold an Apprenticeship Event

So 2 and a half years ago Aaron arrived. Aaron was a school teacher who we’d been working closely with for a number of years with his pupils coming in for work experience and school trips. We had also funded some equipment and various projects he was involved with.  He was head of IT at Ashton on Mersey and he was real driving force.  He was already a great friend and I knew him well as he was someone I’d played plenty of sport with over the years.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting or working with Aaron will know him as an engine of energy and he embodies the UKFast values and culture.

Aaron set about building his team and brought with him a fellow teacher he worked closely with, Arlene.

Aaron always talks with pride that I gave them a blank canvas to go and paint the picture themselves without the guidance of other directors. He’d been used to the public sector, an environment driven by rules, and this style was alien to him, but if you have the right team who understands your ultimate goal, its very easy to empower great people. If you also need a fast result, don’t hamper the people you are asking to come in and fix the problem too.

So this week there was one of those moments, where you look on with pride. The highlight was an event to help raise awareness amongst Manchester businesses hosted by our very own school teacher Arlene and with guests including one of our apprentices Tim, Neil Clough from the Apprentice TV programme, we had representatives from the National Apprenticeship Service, Total People and also Aaron the master mind behind the UKFast educational program.

Before going on stage I thought about the journey and wrote down some of the things they have achieved since setting up the UKFast University and educational strategy.

Arlene and Aaron and their apprentices @UKFast

Arlene and Aaron and their apprentices @UKFast

We were now a top 100 Apprenticeship employer, we’d won 3 awards for training and development. We are an accredited Person Vue Training and Examination Centre. We are working with Manchester Metropolitan University designing our own eCommerce and Cloud MsC. A few of us have even talked in the Houses of Parliament.

These are things we couldn’t have imagined 3 years ago.

But whats really amazing is the apprenticeship program. I was asked for my highlights and I immediately thought of the young guys over in Verbier helping me finish the Farinet project against the odds and up against the clock. I watch them develop from boys to men during that project, taking ownership of some tough tasks.

Tim was amazing too. Calm on stage and I was so proud.  He chairs the Youth Apprentice Ambassador Network and now manages a complex environment in our support team, he spoke with pride explaining how he had done work experience at 13 when at Aaron’s school and how he didn’t want to go to University, he wanted a career with UKFast. I realised we started something here, this journey began a lot longer than 3 years ago and it is working.

So the morning after this event when news broke on the Manchester Evening News that up to 300 staff and apprentices are potentially being laid off, I sat down with my team and asked them, “how many can we cope with?”

The night before we’d been celebrating Apprentices and talking about how brave they’d been taking this path when the whole country was focussed on University.

Seeing the benefits of young people coming in straight after school, ready to learn and so receptive to the pace and culture, it made sense to offer our help. Sitting next to Tim was proof enough that we needed to step in and help and he alone gave me justification.

But however many we take, we can never house them all at UKFast.

We decided to have an open day at UKFast on Wednesday this week and I tweeted to see if some of my friends, wanted to come along and put up stands and talk with the Apprentices about their businesses too and hopefully recruit some as well. It’s great to see friend and tech rival Scott Fletcher from ANS throw his hat straight in the ring. Others include North Coders, who I’d only met the night before and we’d joked about there not being enough apprentices to go around. Gareth from Intilery. Claire from theapprenticeshiphub.co.uk. 

"We don't meet people by accident, they are meant to cross our paths for a reason." LJ

“We don’t meet people by accident, they are meant to cross our paths for a reason.” LJ

Manchester as a city never ceases to amaze me and I can see clearly that the Manchester Tech Community is very much alive and well, and if anyone has any concerns that Tech North is going to be controlled by London, I can assure you it already has a mind of its own. The sorts of businesses and entrepreneurs both established and up and coming, are so strong willed that I have every confidence Manchester will remedy this problem and every other challenge put in its path.

It was lovely to receive so many positive messages about our help, and I have the team at UKFast to thank for that as they are the ones that make all things possible and who have the courage to drive the business at the pace they do.

If you are one of the Apprentices affected in the difficulties this week at Bright Futures or if you are someone who simply wants to join an apprenticeship in the North West and you are available on Wednesday, come along. We will put the timings up on our site on Monday and I am sure there will be food and drink and plenty of fun and lots we can all learn.

If you are a business and wanting to get involved with apprentices, get involved too. This is a rare opportunity to find a large amount of talent all coming on to the market at the same time. We can’t solve the problem on our own and as a city I believe we should be protecting the young people especially where their education is concerned. So let me know if you want to pop along and contribute or meet some of them.

Whatever challenges we have in the UK, from what I am learning from growing our education department at UKFast, the answer is in education and how we develop our teams. Be that straight out of school, university or old folk like me, education is the answer.

See you Wednesday!

Best LJ

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