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Training Places

"We should support the government’s apprenticeship levy and help support all our futures."

Chan Kataria, emh group Chief Executive


A recent headline about significant staff redundancies at one housing organisation arising from the pressure of the rent reductions was a sad sight to see. But while this may be a necessary economic reality for some housing associations, it can also mean a loss of skills and potential talent which may threaten future stability and even growth.

The skills shortage in the sector continues to be a critical issue, and preparing our businesses with the right skill-sets for the future in scaled-down workforces is becoming an increasingly bigger investment priority.

The government’s proposal to introduce a levy across all sectors which will be used to pay for the training costs of apprenticeships may on first glance appear to be a step in the right direction, but there are far too many unknowns at the moment for the sector to embrace it wholeheartedly. The NHF has already addressed the issue, reinforcing the argument that housing organisations are delivering social as well as economic value, but cataloguing a number of reservations about how it will be applied and where the money will be spent.

At emh group we are proud of the successes achieved through our apprenticeship academy, and it has become a national beacon of best practice through our commitment to supporting and empowering young adults to become the best that they can be, providing us with staff who are steeped in the values of our organisation, and are confident, competent, and committed workers.

Since its inception in 2012, the academy has been named a City & Guilds Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer by the National Apprenticeship Service, and its inspirational leader, Chris Swaine, was named the Chartered Institute of Housing Achiever of the Year in 2015. In 2014, the academy won the Leicester College award for Outstanding Contribution to Apprenticeships by an Employer.

The academy has adopted a three-tier approach to opportunities for young people - trainees, apprentices, and undergraduates – to enable recruits to build on their academic CVs while continuing to grow their practical experience.

Our trainees and apprentices come from a varied range of backgrounds, and many of them have experienced difficult situations and faced social exclusion. But I am always surprised and delighted to see how they respond to their new environment and thrive through the process. I can recall one of the trainees, now a successful apprentice, on one of his first days greeting me with a cheery “Hello, mate!” While this was unexpected, it was a refreshing reminder of their complete openness and lack of cynicism.

The academy members may benefit from greater life opportunities, but the benefits also ripple out into the local community – through an increased motivation to succeed and more disposable income in the area – and on into the wider state, through reduced welfare costs, increased economic activity, increased tax revenues, and the influencing of government policy makers.

The benefit they have had on our business has also been immense. The growth of the academy has led to more joined-up thinking and a more fluid workforce, leading to inter-departmental silos being bridged. The apprentices have also helped to change established attitudes and behaviours within the organisation with their energy and enthusiasm, and through being encouraged to ask why are helping to drive efficiency and improve customer services.

The rise of the emh group academy has coincided with a fresh commitment to learning within the rest of the organisation. It is essential that a workforce can evolve and adapt to new challenges and be open to new possibilities. Our ethos is to create leaders who are concerned with results, rather than managers who are more concerned with the process. By involving staff in decision–making and giving them more individual responsibility, we are creating effective teams bound together by a common purpose. The idea that a team succeeds or fails together is a powerful motivating force and one that can shape new behaviours.

There is no doubt that investing in apprentices has helped improve our business and contributed to shaping its future. But there is also much that we can learn from their attitude and approach. An open mind and a willingness to experience new ways of working are paramount for any organisation with an eye on the future. So despite any reservations we may have, we should support the government’s apprenticeship levy and help support all our futures.