Invest in your workforce of tomorrow

Jez Abbott
Monday, July 27, 2015

The managing director of KCS Print welcomed chancellor George Osborne’s recent boost for apprentices: a new levy to help large businesses spearhead a drive to increase numbers of apprentices. With Terrye Teverson, Osborne has found someone already in the driving seat.

KCS Print, a medium-sized company on the Devon-Cornwall border, has been training and nurturing apprentices for around 20 years. 

In the early days it was hard to find trained printers in her part of the West Country, and it’s still not easy. The need for apprentices therefore was, and remains, pressing, because they too can prove hard to recruit.

The challenge

“Finding suitable people to become print apprentices can be tricky,” explains Teverson, whose 29-staff business in Launceston is about an hour’s drive from Truro and 45 minutes from Exeter. KCS Print is reliant on local youngsters, but there are only so many young, or youngish, people in and around the medium-sized town in east Cornwall. Pinpointing them can be hard.

“First criterion when taking on apprentices is to find young people who are suitable. I say young people, but apprenticeships can be undertaken by anyone in England aged from 16 to 65. But typically we often attract people between the ages of 17 and 20, out of school, maybe in a bum job on a zero-hour contract but wanting more from their life.”

KCS Print is one road to that better life. But if availability of potential apprentices is difficult, other factors make the lure of training an even harder sell to new the generations we need. To some people an apprenticeship, regardless of sector, smacks of cheap labour and a second-rate career choice. To others, the problem is specific to print, and it’s one of image.

If only the UK was more like some of its northern European cousins on the issue of professional image, she muses: “In places like Germany, engineers are held in high esteem and appreciated. In this country they have less status and the downbeat image of men with oily rags endures, doing our industry no good and my attempts to recruit no favours.”

The government can do only so much, admits Teverson, who tempers praise for the Budget with cautionary words on the national living wage and zero-hour contracts. It is “incumbent” on not just KCS Print but the whole the sector, she feels, to make print not only look upbeat but to prove it with good terms and conditions, especially for people new to print. First impressions, after all, count. 

KCS Print will not use zero-hour contracts, though Teverson concedes for some people and situations, such contracts may work. On the national living wage, meanwhile, she feels it morally wrong people in full-time work should need income top-ups in the form of benefits.

The method

So Karl Worgan, on his NVQ 3 in print, Ross Savage, who is honing his skills on print finishing, and business-management apprentice Ella McDonald are permanent, full-time employees on fair salaries. 

Reaching out to the Worgans, Savages and McDonalds of this world is the first crucial step to recruiting apprentices. For this KCS Print advertised in local schools, using upbeat, eye-catching artwork. It also went online. 

“But you have to know where to look, in other words, where young people look,” says Teverson who found the job website Indeed (www.indeed.co.uk) drew a better response than higher-profile sites such as the government’s Universal Jobmatch or Jobcentre Plus, “maybe because the site’s look and feel strikes a chord with young people”.

Before starting on their journey, typically three years, new recruits ‘bed in’ for three months to make sure their attitude and performance is suitable. And then comes the learning, from print, pre-press and finishing, to print administration and warehousing. Skill levels go from basic to NVQ 7, equal to a foundation degree and including critical thinking, core behaviour and management coursework. 

Apart from the occasional away-day to Birmingham or London, most of the training at KCS Print is done in-house, with mentoring and all-important assessment from external training experts from the BPIF. Mentors oversee apprentices making plates, managing colour and setting up presses.

Teverson used to send KCS newbies to Plymouth College, but course changes ruled this out: “In any case, I’m not sure colleges are always the best environment to learn; sometimes training isn’t specific enough to an area of print. Meanwhile in out-of-the-way areas like ours, students need their own transport, which many don’t have, or they use public transport, which isn’t so good. And if the tutor doesn’t turn up for a lesson, it’s a frustrating waste of time and money for everyone.”

The BPIF is a crucial ally to printers keen to use apprentices. Currently there are several hundred apprentices under the BPIF scheme, and Teverson credits the work of the late chief executive Kathy Woodward for helping to forge a structured path of learning from entry-level machinery apprenticeships to higher apprenticeships in management offering post-degree-level qualifications. Two programmes included entry level for 16-to-24-year-olds, with an upskilling programme targeting career-changers aged 25 and above. For people aged 16 to 23 an apprenticeship costs nothing, while the trainees earn as they learn. The only cost to the employer is in the wages of the apprentice – the BPIF accesses government funding to pay for the rest. 

The result

Teverson has lost count of exactly how many apprentices KCS Print has taken under its wing since it formed in the mid 1990s. But she has little doubt her current roll-call of apprentices has been a major contributor to a doubling of turnover since 2010. By the third year of an apprenticeship, a trainee is a qualified, productive and committed member of staff, providing a return on investment. 

“Our apprentices have brought stability to the workforce, which means higher quality work and fewer mistakes through a better understanding of the job and what staff are doing. But they also give the business a strong cultural identity. Everyone talks of an ageing workforce, but at KCS, it’s not ageing and the apprentices are keeping some of us older hands young in spirit and thinking.

“But one of the biggest benefits of apprenticeships is that they help create a dedicated, loyal workforce. Most of our apprentices are young people who have just left school or left fairly recently. They have lots of energy and can quickly learn not just the technical aspects of the work but the way we do business.”

It doesn’t always go to plan, she concedes: one new recruit didn’t settle and had issues of job concentration. But blips apart, apprentices, who may not have workplace experience nevertheless offer a fresh perspective and new ideas, which are just as important to a business, says Teverson.

“Young people often have good technology skills gained from using computers and social media from an early age. 

“KCS Print is a good place to use this knowledge to build competitive advantage. And because we constantly invest in new technology – this June we integrated the latest Domino inkjet heads on to our integrated label lines to offer 2D barcoding – we not only boost our chances of winning more work, but help blow the dinosaur image of the print sector as a dated and dirty, oily-rag trade. It is therefore more attractive to those about to enter the working world.”

And while the cost of funding an apprentice may put off some employers, in reality the initial outlay is often smaller than many companies think while apprentices often pay for themselves within a few years by improved productivity and other efficiencies, she says.

Beyond KCS Printers, Teverson sees how apprentices will help UK productivity, through higher profits, better wages and reductions in the welfare costs that Osborne will cut in order to fund those three million new apprenticeships. 


VITAL STATISTICS

KCS Print

Location Launceston, Cornwall 

Inspection host Managing director Terrye Teverson 

Size Turnover: £3m; Staff: 29 

Established 1996

Products A4 integrated labels and continuous business forms, full-colour personalised print and exhibition banners 

Kit Six-colour Didde Glaser VIP and Morgan 904 colour press, two Tamarack label applicators, Xerox digital printers, Mimaki and Epson wide-format kit, Domino inkjet heads, a range of finishing machinery

Inspection focus

Taking on apprentices


TOP TIPS

Get the right person Preparation is crucial in terms of identifying exactly what sort and age of apprentice you want and how you conduct the interview.

Know where to look Careful choice of websites and publications will enable you to reach a bigger pool of potential candidates.

Get expert help The National Apprenticeship Service offers information and tips on how to get started, as do several government websites focusing on apprenticeships.

Think about training providers The BPIF, colleges and other providers can advise you on training, the implications of taking on apprentices, support and government funding. 

Smarten up your company image Upbeat newsletters and marketing are more likely to appeal to younger people; “who wants to work for a fuddy-duddy company?” asks Teverson.

Make it fun and motivating Training should offer variety, a clear career path and the knowledge that staff are being invested in, while incentives and benefits boost motivation.

Invest the time and effort While your apprentice may spend time on off-site training, you will need to provide on-the-job training and mentoring to offer them guidance and support.

Think of succession planning Apprentices are not quick fixes but could potentially be your managers of tomorrow, so they need a structured career path with promotion potential. 

Look at the facts Apprenticeships work: the Centre for Economics and Business Research found apprenticeships contributed £34bn to the UK economy in 2014, with every £1 of public money spent training apprentices resulting in a £21 boost for the national economy.

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