(Marielle Tweedie – Head of Bright Futures Programme)
In Star Wars, Yoda tells us “the force is strong in you my young Jedi” and here at Bright Purple on our apprenticeship programme the force is strong in all our young people.
Today marks the start of National Apprenticeship Week when apprentices and employers across the UK celebrate the importance of offering young people opportunities in the work environment. With this celebration taking place and over 500 events planned up and down the country, what better a time than to talk about the success of our Bright Purple apprentices and the programme?
I would like to start by taking you back to Day 1 when Sarah, Lewis, Tom, Becki, Deonne, and Craig started with us. I remember walking into the Academy and thinking I had bitten off more than I could chew by agreeing to run the programme. The 6 young people who sat in front of me were extremely quiet and when some of them did speak, it was a stream of conversation at 100 miles an hour that was more suitable for the pub on a Saturday night at kicking out time, rather than for an office environment. When I did ask them to take part in the projects I had planned out so meticulously they told me “they couldn’t do it”. After three weeks I sat down on a Friday night looking at the timetable I had spent hours drafting for them and came to the conclusion that there would be no more “I can’t do this” on the programme. From that day forward I was going to challenge them, stop spoon feeding them and holding their hand on every task and get them to stand on their own two feet. That Friday was like a revelation for me. After adopting the “tough love” stance things started to change. At first it was small things, like they took on board what I was saying about first impressions in the business environment by giving out firm handshakes and holding their heads high when they walked around the office. The “shouldnaes”, “likes”, “didnaes”, “hadnaes”, “couldnaes”, “buts” and colloquial language started to disappear. The biggest change however was in the apprentices’ confidence. By encouraging them to do the projects and adopting the new Dr Pepper motto of “how can you say you can’t do something if you don’t try it”, it opened up a new world of opportunities to the apprentices. I realised at that stage that it wasn’t just the scruffy hairstyles that had disappeared, the issues holding the apprentice back were finally gone.
I was also keen for them to adopt an entrepreneurial approach so asked them to come up with ideas to improve Bright Purple and make their mark on the business. By fuelling their creativity, encouraging them to face new challenges, not underestimating what they could achieve and fuelling their confidence I discovered this was a winning combination in terms of delivering successful business results.
The last few weeks I feel have really been the most rewarding on the programme because as a team we have been able to show senior management in the company that the programme is bringing real value to the business. The apprentices have started resourcing for live roles and to date we have now had 3 deals within the apprentice team between Lewis and Craig. In just 2 months collective resourcing this is an amazing achievement. Sarah has also secured 3 interviews in just one weeks resourcing – which is a Bright Purple record. In total the apprentices have secured 27 interviews. This is where the value of running the programme really comes in. It has been like a shock wave across the sales floor. Our experienced recruiters and resourcers are looking over at these young people who are propelling themselves up the ranks and thinking to themselves that they had better pull their socks up. There have been nights I have left the office at 8pm and the apprentices are the only people still at their desks working. They are extremely dedicated and loyal to Bright Purple and because we have given them such great opportunities- such as meeting Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Mohammed Yunus they have told me they would like to repay our faith and belief in them.
On Friday I really saw how far they have come. Freya (Nick’s daughter) and her friend Caitlin came in on work experience and Deonne planned an interesting and jam packed day of events for them. The other apprentices also helped the girls and it was extremely interesting to watch as the programme had in essence gone full circle. Bright Purple had helped the apprentices and now they were helping their peers. The apprentices passed on the information they have learned in relation to recruitment, how to qualify candidates, how to present, what makes a good recruiter and sales techniques. For me, it was a really great thing to see. The apprentices are also taking part in a session with young people from the Citadel Youth Centre in Edinburgh soon. This will include things like a cv workshop, how recruitment works, tips and hints for navigating the employment market and the importance of first impressions. It will be designed and delivered by the apprentices to other young people and again I think this shows how far they have come and the positive impact they are having not only at Bright Purple but in the wider community.
Personally, running the programme has been a real learning curve for me and I feel it is not only the apprentices who have grown as individuals. For the first time, I have been given the opportunity to essentially head up a team of 6 people and it has helped me develop my relationship management and team skills. The apprenticeship programme has helped me as I have personally developed as a business person and have also had to face challenges over the 4 months.
The highlight for me has been the support and help that I have had from external companies and business individuals. Our speaker sessions have been invaluable and I am extremely grateful to the business leaders and people who have taken the time to meet the apprentices and share their advice with them.
In particular I would like to say a special thanks to Gordon Dow, the founder of the Power Lunch Club. He has worked religiously to help our apprentices through inviting them to the Power Lunch Club Sessions, highlighting the programme to business people and securing press and media coverage for the apprentices. I am so grateful to have someone like Gordon to help us as he is so passionate about helping the young people and he has been a “Bright Purple Apprenticeship Knight” and a true crusader for helping the apprentices to grow through the opportunities he has invited them to. The apprentices email and speak to Gordon on a weekly basis and I think the greatest thanks that we can give Gordon is that they now see him as a friend.
Having Monica and Caroline from DGM Training onboard with the programme has been excellent. They have not only worked extremely hard with the apprentices and contributed massively to the positive change in them but have also acted as mentors for me. When I have needed a second opinion or guidance I have asked these wonderful ladies for help. They have not only helped me with the day to day running of the programme but have also offered me support with the challenges along the way. With apprenticeships being a hot topic, there are numerous training providers out there on the market. However, what sets DGM out from the rest of them is their commitment to young people. They don’t see the apprentices as statistics or an opportunity to hit their training quota, they take the time to understand the young people and also Bright Purple as a business. They are constantly in touch with me and the apprentices and have been a fantastic and exceptionally professional team. For the hard work that they have put into the programme and the personal help they have given me I am truly grateful.
And what does the future entail for our apprentices and the programme? The 1st June will be the biggest challenge I face in terms of being the head of the apprenticeship scheme here at Bright Purple. This is the date that I must decide the fate of who will stay with us and be offered full time sales roles and who will move on to pastures new. Already some of the apprentices have come forward to say that their career aspirations lie outside of sales and DGM will begin working with them to help them secure a role outside of Bright Purple. Even for the young people who leave us at the end of June they have still had an invaluable platform and springboard into the business world and employment market through taking part in the programme.
Neil Francis visited the apprentices last week and something he said has stuck with me. Neil told the apprentices to finish the programme with their heads held high and give 110% in effort until the final day, regardless of what the future holds after the end of June. This is something both they and I will be doing – the last couple of days on the programme will be filled with enthusiasm and will be a celebration, we are also having an Apprentice Graduation to celebrate their success. No matter who stays with us and who goes I will never forget the “famous 6” and the time I have spent with them.