Superior Seals were recognised at the 14th annual National Apprenticeship Awards as The Royal Navy Award for Medium Employer of the Year. The awards showcase the many success stories and benefits of apprenticeships. The most outstanding entries from employers covering all sectors, are also featured in the Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers list. The work that Superior Seals has been doing landed them on that list.

Superior seals

Katie Bodman is the Head of Training Academy at Superior Seals and is responsible for recruiting the apprentices, ensuring that their training is delivered appropriately in-house and via the local college and that training is completed on time. She also promotes the academy by giving talks at local schools and colleges about the benefits of apprenticeships.

The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced by the Government in the hopes to significantly increase the quantity and quality of apprenticeships. However, official government figures showed a decline in the number of apprenticeship starts, with just 48,000 new apprenticeship starts between May 2017 and July 2017, a 59% drop on the same period in 2016. Over a third (35%) of levy paying firms don’t plan to use the levy at all to develop apprenticeships but will simply write it off as a tax. Bodman believes companies are missing out on the chance to fill the skills gap by creating a talent pipeline, “We’re trying really hard to promote the levy, and I am disheartened when I hear that the number of apprentices is dropping. Whether that’s entirely because of the levy, I’m not 100% sure.”

“We had an ageing workforce, which meant there were a lot of skills within the business, but we needed a younger generation to come in and learn from our experienced employees before they moved on and retired.”

When utilised to its full potential, the levy can offset several costs that are involved in training new and existing employees. “For us, we deliver apprenticeships of all levels, from an advanced apprenticeship all the way to a degree apprenticeship. The levy is really working well because before we had the levy we had to fund degree apprenticeships ourselves. Now, we can use the levy to fund the degree apprenticeships, which works in our favour.” Bodman adds.

Superior Seals is set apart as it has a training academy within the business, meaning there is no need to use a third-party provider to supply training to their apprentices. The firm, which is a leading manufacturer of high integrity o-rings and seals, now recruits new apprentices annually and has invested £1 million in a dedicated training academy.

When apprentices start the programme, they spend a year at the academy with their own dedicated training manager. The manager will deliver all of the practical training and the NVQ training is provided by the local college. Within that year they will also start working in different departments on a six-month rotational placement, so they are well acquainted with all areas of the business. “After that placement, we have a review with them, find out where they want their career to go, where they most enjoyed or which areas of the business they think they can really support and develop in. Then they get offered a permanent placement within that area, and throughout the whole apprenticeship, they get reviews, they have a mentor and are also making contact with existing apprentices as well. We try and develop a well-rounded individual by the time they finish their apprenticeship.” Bodman says.

The company also offers security and insurance of a full-time position when an apprenticeship ends – which is an opportunity that most graduates and interns are not afforded.

Having won a National Apprenticeship award, it is clear that the company has had a number of success stories within the business. “All of our apprentices are adding value to the business, and we are fortunate that we have got an apprentice in every area of the company. We make quite a lot of investment within the apprenticeship programme, so there are a few apprentices that really stick out for me. One of them is James Rowe.”

“He joined the company as an engineer, and during his rotational placement, he spent some time in our logistics office. He was customer-facing, he was dealing with customer accounts, making sure they were all getting their parts on time, and if any problems arose, he would deal with them. The sales director noticed that he had a particular flair for sales and dealing with customers, so he actually offered James a placement within our sales department. Now, James is looking after all of our American accounts, which are in excess of £1,200,00”

“Since he’s been working in Sales, he has already increased the portfolio by 10% in the last year and acquired over £274,000 worth of new business. James is only 23, and he has got a lot of responsibility, but he is really adding a lot of value to the company within quite a short space of time. He was supported in completing a higher apprenticeship in engineering and he has also completed a level 6 qualification in sales and marketing.”

James is also able to travel within his role along with the sales director to meet Superior Seals’ international customers. The sales director has 25 years worth of experience having started in the business on a summer placement, the wealth of knowledge that he has is being passed onto James who will hopefully remain in the business for a substantial amount of time.

This is particularly encouraging especially as James’s generation has been dubbed the job-hopping generation, giving apprentices the opportunity to progress, grow and develop within a business helps boost with retention.

It is clear to see from the example of James, that a small investment into training an apprentice can pay off and add value to a business for a number of years. “Giving the apprentices the opportunity to progress, grow and develop within the business definitely helps us with retention. While we don’t keep all of our apprentices, I think the thing that’s important is that the apprentices that have left have all gone into the same industry.” Bodman says “Our apprentices can see the investment and because they are so talented, they’re all doing brilliant things within the business which means they get given quite senior responsibility quite quickly.”

Katie has high hopes for the future of the academy. The company opened the academy in 2012, since the company has grown, and the turnover has grown by 50%.

“We’d like to start recruiting more apprentices, boost our visibility and involvement in the local area to become more prominent. We want to try and encourage as many other local companies to do the same, and also go into schools to promote apprenticeships as much as possible.”

For employers looking to start up their own apprenticeship programmes, Superior Seals offer a tour of their academy and host group sessions discussing the benefits of apprenticeship programmes as well as presentations from current apprentices.

“There is still such a big stigma surrounding apprenticeships and we’re slowly chipping away at it. But winning this award is just the beginning for us, we’re not going to just stop there. We want to use the kudos of the award to help us promote things even bigger and better than what we’ve done to date.” Bodman concludes.