How our apprenticeship schemes began
Hi Paul, you’ve been involved in the Virgin Media Apprenticeship Schemes since the very beginning and you’ve continued your commitment to apprentices over the years, which has created so many opportunities for people. What’s the story behind this?
The apprentice idea came about due to a conversation with some Technicians and Engineers in Bradford back in 2007. I had just hosted a roadshow and was chatting to a couple of Engineers I knew from when Yorkshire Cable was first established. I was shocked when they talked about retiring in two years’ time. Driving home it dawned on me that when the first cable companies were established, we recruited a number of engineers who had taken voluntary redundancy from BT. We carried out a piece of research and realised we were heading for a potential shortfall in skilled Engineers. It got me thinking about how we could establish a long-term pipeline of recruitment and having been an apprentice myself it made sense that we create our own apprenticeship. By September 2007, we had approval from our CEO at the time and although we felt slightly panicked about delivering this huge project, it was such an exciting concept we wanted to achieve. Fortunately for us, one of our Field Managers, Peter Van Den Broek, was interested in getting involved and in partnership with the people team, we managed to get things off the ground. 12 months later after a number of roadshows at various locations across the UK and a lot of hard work, our first apprentices joined the business. We have since seen over 800 apprentices pass through the door and it’s really pleasing to see people in Supply Chain, Management, Trainers and Operation Improvement managers etc. who have all progressed their careers after finishing their apprenticeships.
The benefits, surprises and what’s impressed me the most having apprentices in the business
From a business perspective, we are investing in the future of Virgin Media, from an operational perspective, they inject enthusiasm that can quickly become infectious when they are working with a remote team of 12 technicians. What’s surprised me the most about apprenticeships is that although it was challenging to get the whole thing off the ground in 2008, we hired some fantastic candidates and quickly started getting lots of good press and hosted a number meetings with other businesses who wanted to know what we were doing differently.
Right from the start, we agreed that we would deliver something that set a really high standard which has been retained since the early days when Peter Van den Broek and Chris Starling were involved and we have gone from strength to strength with the work that Karen Handley and the team are doing now. I’m really impressed that we didn’t just focus on the job roles we were looking to fill, we also tried to give the apprentices a different outlook on life in general and that led to each cohort fulfilling a task that contributed to a charity of their choice, for example, a coast to coast bike ride.
My advice for prospective apprentices
The advice I would give to prospective candidates is to be prepared to work hard. If you have the right attitude then Virgin Media’s a great place to be, we are a fast paced, growing business and that brings lots of opportunities for career progression. I remember being asked a similar question by a mother of a prospective apprentice in 2008 at Notts County Football Ground. At that event, there was myself, our COO and a couple of heads of department and a manager on stage and I told her that every one of us had started our careers as apprentices and there was no reason why her daughter couldn’t be delivering a similar speech in years to come.
My proudest moment
There have been lots of things that have stood out over the years, for example, talking to Boris Johnson and Prince Andrew about our schemes, the launch of our training centre in Eagle Court and seeing apprentices become managers, but the big stand out which was both pleasing and incredibly emotional was when one of our female apprentices became one of the first women to win ‘The Institute of Telecommunications Professionals’, Apprentice of the Year award. The emotion flowed because this person left school with no qualifications and a complete lack of confidence but with her focus and our support, she became the National Apprentice of the year in 2012.
It’s been great reminiscing our Apprenticeships and I would like to end by ensuring one of our fabulous training managers, Jim Jack is not missed out of this story. Jim was a huge advocate of the Apprentices and sadly passed away after a fall while out hill walking in 2013. As a team we were so proud to rename our Renfrew Training Centre the Jim Jack Centre Of Excellence..