Traditionally the route to employment in the property sector is via university and then a RICS qualification and into the workplace but as diversity moves up the boardroom agenda other routes including apprenticeships are being considered. 


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Jon Seal, managing director of technology within explains to Property Week his route to employment and why other options should be considered in the sector.

What was your route to employment?

I was state educated, I left school at 16 and then went into an apprenticeship. My apprenticeship was in electronic engineering. I did that for three years and got a grounding in technology.

You moved into work at 16 would you recommend that?

I had a very, very steep learning curve. Things were a little bit different back then. We wouldn’t take a 16 year old apprentice now we’d only take 18 years. I’d encourage anyone to first do a couple of years of college and then an appreticeship.

Was university ever an option?

I’d like to give massive credit to my parents there for identifying that my learning skill was much more practical than it was academic. I have an older brother who is a clinical psychiatrist and did seven years at university. Identifying how people learn is really key and being honest with yourself, asking do I pick more up from reading a textbook or do I pick more up from experiences and understanding when I see what’s going on around me.

I’m a very practical learner. If you put me in a situation, I’m going to learn way more about what’s happened there than if I was to read about it in a textbook.

What has doing an apprenticeship mean to you?

In my career I’m probably five years ahead than most people that have gone to university and in addition I’m not in debt.

Those skills that made me good for an apprenticeship make me good in my role today. Leadership is often about seeing what’s going on around you and identifying any changes that are needed to adapt to it. Often those issues aren’t written down for you although some leaders will learn a lot from reports.

You mention you didn’t get into debt - what are the finance benefits of apprenticeships?

I don’t want to diminish apprenticeships by talking about the financial side too much, but it is a huge part. Over a three-year period, if you include the cost of the education and the salary - it’s a £100,000 package. So, you’re paying £40,000 to £50,000 in the tuition fees, and then there is the time off and you’re paying salary on top of that. It’s a great deal. You means you earn and you move ahead.

You have introduced apprenticeships in your firm, why is that good for your business?

Through apprenticeships you start to pull from a pool of people that aren’t necessarily academic learners. I worry for my kids because one is very academic learner and one isn’t. It seems hugely unfair that one should go further than the other. That’s not justified at all when we’ve all got different skills to bring. Apprenticeships are becoming much more common now and can be found on more clerical style jobs. There’s a mindset that you are going to be an apprentice then that means you are going to be a bricklayer or a plumber or electrician. That kind of mindset needs to be dispelled.

Do your apprentices always stay within the business?

Most of them stay, some of them some of them move on. For some, they find an area that they’re really focused on elsewhere but that’s just part of the journey.

Has Covid-19 made a change to people considering apprenticships?

Conversely Covid was a huge killer to apprenticeships. They suffered hugely. It wasn’t right for us as a business to take somebody on during the Covid because we couldn’t commit that they would be working with the rest of the team properly. You need to commit to that person and commit to that education because there is no point just taking someone on to tick a box or whatever.

One of the things we’ve change through Covid is more flexible working, but education of people is probably better done in a face-to-face setting. However, you can still have flexibility with flexible timings and allowing people to move the timings of the hours they are contracted to work to sit with their life and their personality.

What would you say to firms considering apprenticeships?

I’d say you get phenomenal people that are hugely appreciative of the opportunity. You get a very committed employee and you also managed to give back to that person as well through the intelligence within your organisation. You get someone who’s super enthusiastic and super committed, and they make a great team member.

On the business side, just look at the numbers – it’s a great deal, whether you’re a levy payer or not. This could happen in so many different areas, and you’re bringing in a more diverse talent pool. Rather than having people that are purely academic, you get this big mix of other people that learn and see the world in a slightly different way. By mixing that together, you end up with a much stronger workforce and one that’s going to perhaps challenge each other and change your thinking a little bit.

Top ten tips for taking on apprentices:

  1. Use your levy pot. For business or group of businesses with a payroll above £3m, 0.5% will be paid to an apprentice levy pot; there is access to this pooled fund to pay for apprenticeships.

  2. Age is no limit. There is a major misconception that apprenticeships are just for school leavers – but anyone can be an apprentice. And it’s not just for ‘starter jobs’, there is a whole range from engineering to management, bricklaying to project management. It’s a superb support for personal development, returnee parents or those looking for new careers.

  3. Plan ahead. When specifically looking to recruit school leavers to an apprenticeship programme, think of the rhythm of the academic year. Consider timelines for advertising and interviews – don’t want to miss the boat and have to wait another 12 months.

  4. Be flexible. All apprentices need sufficient time off for study - about 20% - as well as a work environment that allows them to learn processes and practices. Home working and the pandemic have impacted the number of apprenticeships, but that’s recovering, and the key is to be flexible.

  5. Be creative. Apprenticeships have moved on significantly since their inception in the 1500s. Think outside the box to more than just blue-collar jobs. We utilise apprenticeships in accounting, tech support, management, and many more. This approach to recruitment and training has opened our door to a varied and successful workforce across all sectors.

  6. Do your research. Event with the greatest work experience in the market, without the right training provider in place, apprentices could be let down. Research your training provider and engage with them – find out what makes them stand out and how they will deliver on their promises to your apprentices.

  7. Upskill your team. Keeping staff is better than recruiting new. A great way to do this is to continue to offer training to staff throughout their career. Consider using an apprenticeship programme to upskill existing team members, not just new starters. This acts as a great benefit and helps with staff retention rates.”

  8. Diversify your team. By creating a truly inclusive promotional strategy for your vacancies, apprenticeships can be a great way to diversifying your team. If targeting schools leavers, ensure you research your target schools and colleges to reach the widest, most diverse audience.

  9. Create a learning environment. The unique value of apprenticeships is that they allow individuals to apply their academic learning in the workplace, so creating an environment which supports this is key to success. Ensure your team are on board with creating this learning environment – and if necessary – train them to be learning advocates.

  10. Get some help. There are so many resources that you can access to help you create and recruit apprentices. The government has put a lot of emphasis on this route to provide easier routes into employment and support the skills gaps we have – it’s an incredibly rewarding opportunity and career. As a former apprentice myself, working and learning has really enabled me to have a great career with a perspective based on an understanding in the workplace, realities of work as well as the classroom based methodical learning.

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