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How apprenticeships are adding to the magic at Fortnum & Mason

Guest blog from Fiona French, people director, Fortnum & Mason and chair of the Retail Apprenticeship Board

With a recent focus on getting a return from apprenticeships, Fiona French talks about their approach to the levy and why influencing apprenticeships at a sector level is of such importance to Fortnum & Mason’s. 

A look back on our history will tell you that we are not only known worldwide for our fine food and beverages, but importantly for our talented staff who, with their expert knowledge and attention to detail, give our valued customers a true sense of pleasure.

In the words of or CEO Ewan Venters, “the magic of Fortnum’s, and I mean real magic, is each and every one of our people…”

Like all businesses, to create magical results we must invest in our greatest asset. We commenced our apprentice journey in 2015, therefore when the apprenticeship levy was first announced we fully embraced the opportunity it presented.

Although our levy investment is not large in comparison to some organisations, we decided to take a strategic approach to ensure we could offer valuable experiences to potential apprentices and get the best return for our business and our people.

For smaller organisations without a dedicated apprenticeship team, the whole subject of apprenticeships and the radical reforms can prove to be somewhat daunting. We spent time understanding; how the apprenticeships would work in our business, the implications of apprentices spending 20% of their time learning off-the-job, how we would manage the training required to meet the new apprenticeship standards and what additional on-costs the business would have to meet.

Taking each of these challenges in turn we soon realised that help was out there and more importantly we were not alone! We became involved with the People 1st Apprenticeship Network, and by sharing experiences with fellow retail employers (and others from the visitor economy sector) this helped us both compare where we were on our apprenticeship journey and prepare to implement the changes in our business.

We also began to demystify common misconceptions, for example we realised the 20% off-the-job learning meant that apprentices should not be undertaking their job during learning, but certainly is achievable the without the need for day release. As we worked through each area of focus, we have found practical solutions for our business, and while it does take time and effort up-front, long-term it’s well worth it.

Whether large or small, businesses can access a number of resources and SMEs in particular should look to their training provider to help plan how they manage apprentices training and prepare them for the new style end-point assessment.

From Fortnum & Mason’s perspective, we wanted to go one step further than just making sure apprenticeships were of the highest quality in our business – we wanted to influence the agenda at a sector level. It was for that reason I applied to sit on the Retail Apprenticeship Board which oversees one of the first employer-led models of external quality assurance (EQA) of apprenticeship end-point assessment. We are only just seeing the first round of end-point assessment take place, so up to this point I, and my fellow members, have been going through a development process, working with People 1st which has been approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA) to deliver this service.

At the end of last year, it was a privilege to be nominated chair of the Retail Apprenticeship Board, and I am thrilled to be undertaking this role with a group of talented retail experts, including Lloyd Thomas, Co-op and chair of the retail trailblazer. Together we want to ensure a proactive approach to external quality assurance and our motto is to ‘prevent’ problems, rather than waiting to expose them.

If your business wants to know more about apprenticeships, or make a more direct sector level contribution there are lots of ways of getting involved. Don’t hold back, my advice is that your business can only benefit from apprenticeships.

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