5 Top Tips to running a successful apprenticeship programme from K&M Training School

For National Apprenticeship Week 2018 (#NAW2018) we chat with Kevin McLoughlin (CEO and Founder, K&M McLoughlin Decorating) and Allan Montague (Training School Manager, K&M Training School) to discover what inspired them to start their apprenticeship programme over two decades ago. We uncover the challenges and business benefits of apprenticeship programmes and learn about the impact of the K&M Training School as well as their plans to inspire more apprenticeships in the construction industry.

What inspired you to start your apprenticeship programme back in 1994?

Kevin: As an ex-apprentice myself I was aware of the importance of apprenticeships and the value they can add. As a value addition to the business however, it started when we realised that our youngest member of staff was reaching his late 20s. We’d been trading for approximately six or seven years at that point and we realised that we needed to encourage younger people coming through the doors to work in the organisation.

K&M has continued its apprenticeship programme for over two decades, why does training and hiring apprentices make good business sense?

Kevin: Skilled people will be trained specifically for your business or industry. They come in, they understand how your business and industry works, they will understand and learn how you work in-depth as they work on jobs for three or four years. So as an organisation, you will know what skills, talent, people and capabilities you will be developing.

What are the challenges to starting and managing an apprenticeship programme for a business today?

Kevin: I think the biggest challenge is the desire vs. commitment required. It’s wanting to do it and realising that it’s got a real long-term value. This was never an issue for us.

We run our own training school, but nowadays you have the colleges for support, however you need to manage the apprentice, their portfolio of work and learning activities, the actual managing of the apprentices (making sure they’re going to college, turning up, working at work and not getting into trouble).

Allan: It’s alright taking Apprentices on, but if you put them on site and don’t look after them and nurture them, then there’s the chance that they’re going to fail. Start of small and then you have a better chance of it working. We started off with just one then two apprentices. When we started it was also just in one borough and now we’ve grown to all across London.

In addition to starting of small, what are your top five tips for starting and running a successful apprenticeship programme?

  • Senior buy-in: Ideally the owner of the company or the top person needs to believe in it or else there is small chance of success. They have got to believe in it in order for the organisation to implement it.
  • Organisational buy-in: The whole company has to accept that you have apprentices and understand the value addition for the organisation.
  • Accept failure: There will always be failure as apprentices learn and organisations need to accept it, empathise, and move forward.
  • Build a strong support system: Having someone for the apprentices to contact is essential if there are any problems. This is of vital importance both for the organisation and the apprentice.
  • Recognise that it is an investment. It is more than likely the biggest investment we at K&M have ever made, and one of the most valuable.

  • How has the scenario changed for apprentices since you were an apprentice or over the last two decades?

    Kevin: There’s not really a lot of difference, I’ve gone through exactly what they’ve gone through. It’s the same in many ways. It’s one day of college, four days of work, working alongside many people, learning and improvement. The essence of apprenticeships in this industry hasn’t really hasn’t changed.

    The college side of it however has changed in (I think) the 2000’s when they imposed more stringent rules for maths and English. It’s now ‘Functional Skills’ whereas previously it was called ‘Key Skills’. When that was introduced it was difficult for a lot of apprentices, but colleges have adapted and improved to ensure that apprentices are equipped with what is required to succeed. That was perhaps the biggest fundamental change, but basically it hasn’t changed.

     The K&M Training school has trained more than 80 apprentices – could you tell our readers about some of your proudest moments over the years?

    So, the first apprentice became very high up in the industry as a commercial manager which is a University degree level. He came in as a painter and decorator and is now a commercial manager for a major construction company in Australia. The beauty of the construction system in this country is once you become a decorator, you can go on to many other levels. You could become a manager, you could become a surveyor, you could become an architect. Whatever you want you can do. And we don’t ever ask people, but we let them know, if they want to carry on then we’ll support them.

    Allan: There are a few stories for me, but anyone who gets a job through us is a success even if they don’t stay with K&M. We get a lot of people from different backgrounds. We have people who came from gang units who did the course and have since been given a job with us. They’ve turned out to become really good employees, and one of them has even just won an award with us a little while ago for “Best Improver of the Year” for his commitment and the work he’s been doing.

    What’s next for the K&M Training School?

    Kevin: We’re hoping to become a Benefits Corporation Company which there aren’t many of in the country.

    We will also soon be launching an exhibition centre within the Training School to showcase the training school, K&M, as well as other businesses in construction who also invest in the local community that we work with. The model will showcase how someone who is unqualified, hasn’t got a profession, can end up getting a job and becoming qualified and working on projects like the Savoy Hotel.

    We want to inspire people and show people what they can achieve. We aim to bring in a wide range of stakeholders (clients, Local Authorities, City of London) and show them in procurement they should be working with companies who do actually invest in the local community.

    (The exhibition centre at K&M Training School is expected to launch this month.)

    K&M joined Heart of the City’s Foundation Programme in 2012 and are now Advanced members, how has your experience been with Heart of the City?

    What’s been good is when we first went on your workshops, it really gave us an insight into corporate social responsibility. It enabled us to develop our programme and it came around the same time as we opened the Training School, which is basically our CSR programme. Heart of the City gave us a lot of insight. The team continue to stay in contact with you, they go to events, we continue to learn more and develop.

    K&M McLoughlin Decorating Ltd. is a Heart of the City Advanced member. As part of their CSR programme they offer a pre-employment course of 4 weeks open to anyone from any background seeking work. Upon successful completion of the course, suitable candidates are then offered a place as an apprentice or improver.

    We also spoke to two current apprentices at the K&M Training School in this other new article, where they share their experiences and offer some top tips to young people starting their apprenticeship journey.

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