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How degree apprenticeships are changing the face of training at Gleeds

LSBU has worked with Gleeds for over 25 years, so we spoke to Stuart Earl to find out how Degree Apprenticeships are changing the face of training at the organisation

Gleeds is a leading global property and construction consultancy founded in 1885. The organisation is renowned for its combination of professionalism and personability and sees training as key to the development of both of these qualities.

As head of training, Stuart Earl shapes on-the-job and academic training for the business’ 1600 employees.

When did Gleeds start sponsoring staff to study?

SE: Gleeds was sponsoring employee study through part- time education before I joined 27 years ago. In fact, I benefitted from the programme myself. I joined as a non-cognate geography graduate, with no academic qualifications as a surveyor. I studied part-time for five years for a degree in Quantity Surveying.

What training does Gleeds offer now?

SE: We offer a range of study options, including part-time degree courses, part-time Masters courses and postgraduate diplomas. In addition to this, there is a range of continuous and intensive development and training, and a raft of mandatory legal and technical training. Even new directors are required to complete certain training courses when they join the business!

New trainees have to complete our in-house training programme, which means passing internal assessments, before being put forward for their MRICS assessment which they must pass in order to become a Chartered Quantity or Building Surveyor.

We've got the hard evidence to prove that the investment is worth it. Our internal research has shown that investment on training is more than covered within 12 months of its completion by the increase in fee-earning potential of those employees who benefit from it.

Stuart Earl

How many of your staff are involved in Higher and Degree level sponsored study at any one time?

SE: In the UK, probably about 25-40 in any one year. Of those, a number study at LSBU, including those studying on Masters courses.

Tell us about your recruitment, selection and training process.

SE: People come to us via a range of routes. We actively encourage a diversity of backgrounds and skillsets within our teams because we believe variety is the key to a strong workforce. There’s a good sporting analogy: nobody wants eleven goal-keepers or eleven strikers in their team. Training is part of the deal at the point of recruitment.

Tell us about the courses staff choose or are matched to.

SE: The matchmaking of an employee to an institution and course often comes down to geography and the background of the student. Some will study Building Surveying, others Quantity Surveying.

Non-cognates typically go down the Masters route. Those who have done a full-time relevant degree or a sandwich course including industry work experience will begin their in-house training straight away. Those who choose the new Degree Apprenticeships are likely to be school leavers (post A-levels) who want to study on the job, avoiding the costs of a standard degree by working as they study and having the security of an employer to support them. There are also those who do a full-time degree, but come to us for their placement year, or one or two days a week for work experience, and/or for holiday work.

What are the main challenges of sponsored study for you as an employer?

SE: First of all, the cost. It costs £27-29K to put somebody through a part-time course, a cost that is borne by the employer. That’s a considerable sum of money, although I believe this is more than worthwhile: it’s an investment in our biggest asset – our people.

We’ve got the hard evidence to prove that the investment is worth it. Our internal research has shown that investment on training is more than covered within 12 months of its completion by the increase in fee-earning potential of those employees who benefit from it.

Is the cost of funding training sometimes a disincentive?

SE: No. In business, people often get hung up on the hard cost of training – but we always end up earning our money back, many times over. Having a workforce that is well trained and good at their job is crucial when your business is people. It’s such a false economy to cut back on training. It’s essentially the fastest and best way to maintain and improve on our assets – which are our people.

How do you cope with staff being away from the office for training and study?

SE: Any good manager will work around this without too much of a problem. Often, days in university fall on a Monday or a Friday, which means it just becomes part of the rhythm of the working week in a particular team.

Supporting apprentices’ development and study is a necessity. Surveying and consultancy are services that are all about individual relationships and the quality of the people delivering the service. So it’s important to take a long-term view on the productivity front. Time out of the office now means rewards reaped in the future.

Stuart Earl

How would you sum up the benefits of Degree Apprenticeships as an employer and for your staff?

SE: With Degree Apprenticeship courses, employers are involved in the structuring, content and focus of the learning on offer, so we know that the result will be a study programme that’s relevant to the workplace. There is more of a match between academic learning and the practical knowledge employees need to make good surveyors. There’s increased engagement between the training providers, such as LSBU, and the employers, which should benefit everybody.

Aside from the fact that we need employees who are well trained and work-ready, the new government levy means we also have a vested financial interest in encouraging our new staff to study on Degree Apprenticeship courses.

How do you support and encourage staff that are on an Apprenticeship?

SE: Much of the benefit an apprentice gets from a course is at least partly dictated by their own levels of enthusiasm. I see a vast spectrum of motivation in our new starters, which has an impact on the resulting depth of understanding and their ability to apply learning on the job.

At Gleeds we try to help our staff grasp the importance of enthusiasm, focus and going the extra mile. Offering the right training has a huge impact on staff morale and employee retention. Employees need to feel as if they are being valued and developed.

Do you feel that communication should be improved between businesses and course providers?

SE: Yes. We’re already seeing the benefit of this. In the past, for example, there wasn’t much communication between universities and employers, and so in terms of monitoring the progress of staff on these courses, there wasn’t much information available.

Now, things have improved and it is beginning to feel more like a partnership. Training will become more holistic and joined-up, and learning far more relevant to the work itself. What’s more, the academic institutions will be more accountable as their accreditation as providers of Degree Apprenticeships depends on their ability to produce graduates who go on to gain the relevant professional qualification.

Communication comes directly, with an apprentice’s line manager having regular quarterly meetings with their academic institution to discuss the progress of the apprentice. The purpose of this is to encourage two-way communication, so that the university can gain feedback on how the apprentice is performing in their day job, whilst the line manager can track their academic progress.

How do you measure the benefit of this sort of training?

SE: We see it ourselves in the way that an apprentice’s knowledge grows as they study, but we also hear it from our clients. As a business we value feedback from clients on our apprentices’ performance. They watch our staff develop as they work with them over a period of time, seeing their knowledge, confidence and expertise flourish. This tells us that investing in our people is more important than anything.

What are your future plans for staff training and development?

SE: If the opportunities for the apprenticeships are realised, then these courses could become the default training route for school-leavers joining the business.

We are continually liaising with local university providers to strengthen partnerships and ensure two-way dialogue and collaboration. We’re passionate about ensuring the study programmes our employees sign up to turn out graduates equipped with an academic qualification that fits the practical applications of the industry.  With Degree Apprenticeships, there’s increased engagement between the training providers such as LSBU and the employers which should benefit everybody.

Find out more about apprenticeships at LSBU.