Willmott Dixon Interiors has gained a national reputation for placing the customer at the heart of every project it delivers.
Central to that achievement is an ability to hand pick its project teams from a diverse and wide ranging mix of expertise and experience.
Each project differs in sector and scale. If you want to be the best, one size can never fit all.
And it’s that kind of progressive thinking which has seen the contractor evolve its approach to developing its people too.
As senior HR manager, James Gordon explains, apprenticeships are facilitating a cultural shift within Willmott Dixon Interiors, that is helping to promote learning at all levels of the business.
Challenging the perception of apprenticeships
It’s National Apprenticeships Week 2022, the 14th annual week-long celebration of apprenticeships taking place across England.
This year’s theme is centred on how to “Build the Future” and aims to encourage everyone to consider how apprenticeships help individuals to build the skills and knowledge required for a rewarding career.
It’s something Willmott Dixon Interiors has been focusing on for the last five years.
James Gordon says: “When we’re talking about apprenticeships, there can be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. There’s still a perception that apprenticeships are focused solely on low level vocational qualifications and are only relevant to younger employees.
“We’ve been actively challenging that view by promoting apprenticeships across our business and using them to equip people in every position with more skills.”
Creating a learning culture
The numbers are impressive. More than 8% of Willmott Dixon Interiors’ c.300 strong team is actively engaged in an apprenticeship.
That figure rises to around 10% if taking an additional cohort of recent apprenticeship graduates into consideration.
Five years ago there were only a handful of apprentices within the business, so what is behind the increase?
“We’re trying to create a learning culture and that doesn’t just stop at your early career, it can and should go on throughout your working life,” explains James.
“We’ve really been moving from funding traditional degrees in the last few years, to making effective use of the apprenticeship levy.
“Part of that shift has been about showing people how they can use the apprenticeship route to gain relevant management qualifications at any stage of their career. We think it’s helped to create a learning culture that is altering people’s understanding of what apprenticeships are for.”
Giving learners a choice
Central to the company’s approach has been its evolution of a well established management trainee programme that identifies and nurtures future leaders.
Where traditionally participants without an existing university-led degree may have been encouraged to study for one, the scheme now promotes multiple routes towards achieving the same end goal.
“Our trainees have a variety of different qualifications and career experience behind them when they join the programme and that influences the direction that we take,” says James.
“Degree educated trainees may want to go straight out on-the-job and that’s fine but the door is always open for them to approach us and we will support them. They could take a Masters-level qualification via an apprenticeship in the future for instance. For others, it might be that we fund their HNC or degree via an apprenticeship for example. Our aim is really to educate our people about the apprenticeship route and explain the options available to them.
“Traditionally we were perhaps a little too ‘black and white’ in our approach. You needed to have an HNC or A-Levels and we would fund you all the way through to the degree. These days some of our people only want to do the Level 4 apprenticeship and that’s absolutely fine.
“Apprenticeships are part of the answer, rather than being the only answer. But the conversation around apprenticeships has allowed us to think in a much more flexible way. We’ve recognised that everyone needs an individual development plan.”
A pathway to professional membership
That level of flexibility is reflected in not only the type of apprenticeships that Willmott Dixon Interiors offers its people, but the way in which they are delivered.
As might be expected, several apprentices are currently undertaking construction focused qualifications, including construction site management, surveying and construction site supervision at levels 4-6.
“One apprentice recently completed a construction site supervisor apprenticeship and has since been supported in changing direction by embarking on an apprenticeship in architectural technology,” adds James.
“It was a smooth transition and it has benefits for the individual and the business. All of these apprentices will undertake end point assessments which could lead to them becoming professional members of respected bodies such as RICS or CIOB, which is a tremendous accolade.”
Skills beyond construction
But construction isn’t the sole focus. As part of its strategy, James says that the company has introduced apprenticeships in digital marketing, data analysis and coaching for the first time.
“We recognise that data is of growing importance in digital construction and so do members of our team. By enrolling on a Level 5 data apprenticeship, they are taking steps to becoming qualified in data analytics which is hugely advantageous for the individual and the wider business,” he says.
“The take-up in Level 3 and Level 5 coaching apprenticeships is interesting as the qualifications aren’t directly linked to an individual’s job role but people understand the importance of coaching as a skill and the profound benefits it can have at home and work.”
The coaching initiative has also attracted several senior managers who have since become advocates of the programme. It has not only supported the promotion of apprenticeships within Willmott Dixon Interiors but is one of several ingredients behind a steady rise in employee engagement too.
Some 90% of Willmott Dixon Interiors’ employees agree that they get the learning and development they need to do their job well, against a benchmark of 75%.
In addition, 85% of people agree that they have the opportunity and encouragement to develop their career at Willmott Dixon Interiors, which is 15% higher than the benchmark figure.
Changing the conversation
According to James Gordon, having a dedicated and ring fenced pot of money available through the apprenticeship levy, has been a crucial part of the progress that Willmott Dixon Interiors has made in shaping the skills of its workforce.
Apprenticeships are now firmly part of the conversation around personal development, for both new and existing employees.
And it’s a conversation that goes beyond learner and employer; there’s also an apprenticeship provider on hand, which has proven to be hugely beneficial.
James explains: “The three-way communication has been really important, it has allowed us to be more involved in the journey our employees take through their qualification, so we have a much better idea of how they’re progressing.
“It’s really taken things to the next level, in that it’s no longer about ‘me and HR’. It has also facilitated the involvement of line managers too, which was something that often happened in the past.
“When people talk to us about their development, we try to explain the different possibilities. Apprenticeships have given us many more possibilities than we’ve ever had before.”
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