We sat down with Matthew Clay, Group Qualifications Manager, and Kirsty Pickering, Apprentice Technician, to discuss their experiences from both sides of the apprentice relationship at Lookers PLC.
Matthew Clay, Group Qualifications Manager
Sum up your business story so far in the time it takes to make a brew.
We’re a leading national motor retailer and we have 160 sites across the UK. We represent 32 manufacturer brands and have 8,000 people in the business - around 500 of those are on apprenticeship programmes. It’s a massive part of the business in terms of growing future talent.
What types of apprenticeships do you offer?
We offer a wide range but the main cohort are in vehicle maintenance and repair. We also offer apprenticeships in customer service, business administration, vehicle sales, and most recently degree level apprenticeships in IT.
"There’s no better way for someone to learn
than via an apprenticeship."
What value do apprentices bring to your business?
They’re of massive value to us as a way of bringing in fresh talent. Our industry is going through changes in terms of technological advancements and we want to bring in people who are at the forefront of that technology. There’s no better way for someone to learn than via an apprenticeship – when they graduate they’re ahead of the curve and can often end up working closely with some of our time-served staff to share their skills and knowledge.
Is there a reason why you’d choose an apprentice over a graduate?
It’s all about finding the right candidates for the business, who are passionate about the industry and who want to progress and learn. Historically we’ve recruited school leavers, but the Apprenticeship Levy means we can attract a wider range of candidates. Apprentices can now complete a Degree Apprenticeship and we’re delighted to have launched our Digital Apprenticeship Program in the IT department.
How is the training funded?
Businesses with a payroll over £3 million pay into the Apprenticeship Levy which is used to fund training. We see it as a brilliant thing for the business and we can really demonstrate the positive impact apprentices have on our bottom line.
How do you go about recruiting apprentices and is it difficult?
We work in partnership with 32 different motor manufacturers which are leading, recognised brands – including Jaguar, BMW, Audi and Land Rover. This partnership helps us to attract high calibre candidates for our various apprenticeship programmes across the country.
"We see great retention rates for our apprentices –
they’re committed to the business."
Would you recommend the apprenticeship scheme to others?
I’d struggle to find a business that wouldn’t benefit from recruiting apprentices. We see great retention rates for our apprentices – they’re committed to the business and we’ve a history of past apprentices progressing their careers within the organisation. An apprenticeship programme benefits the individual in terms of development and stretching them academically, but they also allow other staff members opportunities to develop their coaching and mentoring.
In three words why would you recommend apprenticeships to other businesses?
Engaged, future-focused, home-grown.
Kirsty Pickering, Apprentice Technician
What kind of apprenticeship are you doing?
It’s a three year Service Technician Apprenticeship and at the end of it I’ll have an NVQ Level three qualification.
What excited you about the apprenticeship scheme?
I did originally go to university but it wasn’t for me – I wanted to be learning as I worked, so I started looking at apprenticeships. When I started driving, me and my uncle would work on cars together and I realised that’s what I wanted to do for a job. In the future I’m interested in working with classic cars. This apprenticeship is very hands-on and it’s with a good company.
"I like the fact that you’re not just studying,
you’re also learning practical skills and life skills."
What’s the best bit about splitting time between work and study?
Six times a year I spend a block of time at college which is a mix between practical and classroom work. There’s a workshop there where we put what we learn into use. It was tiring at first but I love it now; I like the fact that you’re not just studying, you’re also learning practical skills and life skills. You earn a wage so you have to learn how to manage your money, for example. And at the end of this I’ll have a qualification and I’ll already have put what I’ve learnt into practice.
How does it feel to be part of the world of work?
I like being part of a team and I get to work with other apprentices and supportive colleagues. My job is very practical, I’m working on cars every day and each day you might come across something you haven’t done before, so you’re always learning.
You’ve got to work hard and there’s quite a lot
of self-led study but it’s worth it.
Would you recommend others become an apprentice too?
I’d definitely recommend it. I just really enjoy what I’m doing and I think that, if you know what area of work you want to go into, an apprenticeship means you can work your way up as you learn. You’ve got to work hard and there’s quite a lot of self-led study but it’s worth it.
Interested in taking on apprentices for your own business? There are providers and events across the North East that can help you to get started.