The Apprentice – Norse style
In this interview, Norse HR Director Tricia Fuller talks about the value Norse Group places on apprenticeships, how the courses are run to provide more than just job skills and how the company works with partner organisations to find worthy applicants.
In 2011 Norse Commercial Services implemented a policy of turning entry-level jobs into apprenticeships. The criterion was that the job had to actually exist. Why did you adopt this approach?
TF: “Because we knew that if they succeeded, unlike a lot of apprenticeships, we could assure them they had a job at the end. We paid them £11k in their apprenticeship year, taking them out of the benefits system and giving them a worthwhile salary whilst they were learning.
We also valued all jobs the same at the apprenticeship stage, removing any stigma potentially attached to lower paid roles and making all vacancies equally attractive in terms of remuneration.
Last year we set up 48 apprenticeships, all of who will get jobs at the end if they succeed.”
You have now extended this policy through help from Norfolk County Council; can you explain how that works?
TF: “Early in 2012 the County Council allocated £880k to Norse Group, which we matched, to help run apprenticeship schemes. We stipulated that the project would have to be run if it was on the basis we had already proved so successful, ie paying each apprentice £11k for the year. I determined that we could take on, and provide training for, 81 young people with the budget.
The difference with this project is there is no guaranteed job at the end, but during the year they will be doing real work, getting accredited to NVQ levels 2or 3 and will be earning a realistic wage. They will also have a very portable qualification and first-rate work experience, and will be in a far better position to get a job.
Within Norse Property Services we will have 10 apprenticeships, 20 within NorseCare and 51 within Norse Commercial Services. This offers a wide range of apprenticeship opportunities across the three operating companies.
We have set a target 40% to come from youngsters who are ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET), or care leavers or those with learning difficulties, in the 16 to 24 age bracket.”
Norse takes a more holistic approach to apprenticeships; can you explain your philosophy?
TF: “It is quite clear to me that if you are going to take NEETs and care leavers, you have to cater for their wider needs. By this I mean there are a whole raft of ‘soft issues’ we need to deal with: behaviour at work, dress code, interaction with colleagues and so on.
To address this we will be running ‘lifestyle workshops’ on such topics as money management, diet, communication skills, building your career etc.
Apprentices will also be offered one day a month, which they can take as blocks of days if required, the opportunity to do voluntary work in the community. They choose a project that interests them, and we give them paid time off work and help them become aware of the importance and value of involvement in their environment and their community.
It all adds up to taking the apprenticeship opportunity to a higher level, not only will you get trained and qualified in a line of work, you will learn lifestyle skills and you will have the opportunity to contribute to the community. That is one of core corporate social responsibility philosophies that Norse Group is all about.”
How are you making young people aware of the apprenticeship opportunities?
TF: “In addition to advertising the local press and on our website, we are working organisations such as BREAK, the Benjamin Foundation and Children’s Services to get the opportunities known.
We are planning open days at various Norse premises to give potential applicants an insight to the sort of apprenticeships available.
However we are also turning the traditional apprenticeship approach on its head. We are going to talk with a number of youngsters, who we feel have the right attitude, to find out what they would like to do for a living and creating an NVQ around their aspirations. Having a fully accredited in-house NVQ level Training Academy, Norse is in a unique position to be able to do this.
Our main training partners such as City College Norwich and Lowestoft College will also act as potential sources of people seeking for apprenticeships. We are working with their teams who are looking for jobs for their students.
Every year we also have 12 students on Project Search who come via City College Norwich, and through the College’s MINT project that tries to find work for people with learning disabilities who leave with no job set up.”
Currently six apprenticeships have been filled and applicants for another 28 are being processed. With over 1500 applications for this last batch the filtering and reviewing process is enormous, but Tricia Fuller hopes to be able to appoint over 50% of the planned 81 apprenticeships by November 2012.
And how do you select just 28 from so many applicants? At the final stage it’s all about attitude, attitude, attitude, Tricia Fuller says. “My mantra is ‘recruit for attitude, train for skills’; if they want to work and are prepared to learn then they are potential Norse apprentices and future employees.”