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Huntley Cartwright find talent via LSBU Degree Apprenticeship Scheme

Chris Huntley from Chartered Quantity Surveyors, Huntley Cartwright, explains how the Degree Apprenticeship scheme is helping them source and grow talent

Caterham-based Chartered Quantity Surveyors Huntley Cartwright have been sending staff to LSBU to obtain an accredited degree on their journey to achieve Chartered status for almost 30 years.

The company is now moving from employer-sponsored study to making use of the Degree Apprenticeship scheme. Founding partner Chris Huntley explains why he feels the scheme is helping the firm to develop and grow, as well as helping to bring new people into the industry.

Why do you send your apprentices to LSBU?

"Our aim, quite simply, is to employ Chartered Quantity Surveyors who meet the requirements of the RICS (The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors), and can take us forward as a firm. The fact that the LSBU apprentice degrees are accredited by the RICS means that it is an ideal fit for us.

"We employ people for the long term – many of our staff have been with us for over 20 years, and we build an environment where loyalty and hard work is rewarded. Investing into training and development is an important part of that relationship, and it’s something we take very seriously.

"We’ve been sending our staff to be trained at LSBU since 1988 and today most of our team have been educated at LSBU. We therefore already have a good understanding of what the university does.

Lots of our team have LSBU First Class Honours degrees and many of them have gone on to hold senior roles with us – as salaried partners, equity partners and quantity surveyors, for example.

Chris Huntley

How do you identify people to send on the scheme?

"There are actually very few young students coming into the industry, and that’s a big part of why we get so involved with the Apprenticeship degrees – we need to create our own new chartered quantity surveyors. To that end, we recruit school leavers to join us, then send them to LSBU as part of their training with us.

"In the past, this has often been quite labour intensive for us – we’ve attended recruitment fairs and school open days to extol the virtues of a career with us – but this year, we’ve worked with LSBU and Mykindafuture, and the process has been really easy. The University has effectively provided us with suitable candidates who are of the right academic standard and interested in a surveying career. LSBU has been fantastic, and the quality of the candidates they have found for us has been exactly what we are looking for.

"It’s worth stressing, however, that we aren’t necessarily looking for straight A grade students. Academic performance is certainly a major consideration, but we look at each candidate holistically – they need to show that they have the right personality to fit in, and couple that with energy and enthusiasm that demonstrates they are serious about a career in surveying."

Why don’t you just hire graduates, instead of contributing towards the cost of putting them through university yourself?

"The apprentices we put through the scheme at LSBU tend to become very well-rounded professionals – it’s often better for us because we can mould them to our requirements and, being quite a specialist firm, we can give them experience on a number of different projects. With us, they could be working on five or six projects and undertaking a variety of roles, whereas some graduates come to us with much more limited experience and have spent long periods of their time and training doing very specific tasks.

"What’s also great about apprenticeships is that the apprentices can benefit from the expertise that surrounds them at work. They don’t always need to ask their lecturers questions – if they are stuck with an element of their coursework, they can often just ask the person sitting next to them for advice.

"We’re also able to give apprentices real examples of the things that they are studying. For instance, if an apprentice is looking at cost-plans during their studies – well, those are our bread and butter. We can show them different examples, and set them some work compiling or assessing real cost-plans for real projects – that’s great experience and helps them develop a clearer understanding than would be possible in a purely academic environment. They also have the opportunity to see, first-hand, building operations on site accompanied by our experienced staff and meeting other design and construction professionals on those site visits.

"We find the progress of the apprentices is very fast. I’d compare an apprentice who has finished their first year as being comparable to a new graduate from a full-time degree. Combining work and study means that apprentices can relate their learning to their day-to-day activities, especially in years 3,4 and 5 of the course."

How many staff do you have on the scheme?

"At the moment, we have three members of staff at various stages of the apprenticeship programme, and over the course of the next year, we will be sending two more to join them – meaning that we will have a total of five on the scheme at LSBU at the same time."

What do you get out of the Degree Apprenticeship programme?

"What we usually find is that for the first year of the course, we offer the apprentices a lot of support. By the second year, they are largely self-sufficient and can manage their own learning. In the third, fourth and fifth years, the apprentice is actually helping the business because they can work more autonomously and take on more complex and senior tasks.

"The apprenticeship scheme means we can generate billable hours from apprentices all the way through their education. As they start, they can undertake some of the more basic tasks that we need completing, which in turn frees up the time of our more senior staff to tackle the more complex roles that the apprentices are not yet ready for. The apprentice benefits from building and developing experience and taking on more and more responsibility, while the organisation benefits from a more cost-effective use of the senior staff’s time.

"Most of all for us, not only does the government fund 100% of the training costs via the apprenticeship levy scheme, as a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) with less than 50 staff we also receive a cash incentive of £1000 for every apprentice we train.  And for every apprentice that is aged 16-18 on the first day of learning we receive another £1000 incentive.  For September 2017 we are sending three apprentices aged 18 and not only are we paying no tuition fees we have received £6000 in apprenticeship incentives! Prior to degree apprenticeships this would have cost the company £27,000 per apprentice in tuition fees. We’ve put the saving straight back into pay packets for those apprentices which helps them through the early years of their career."

Does coping with losing staff for one day a week cause any issues?

"You can almost guarantee that the apprentices will be at university at the same time as major project deadlines or milestones, but that’s something you just need to plan around.

"The main challenge that faces firms looking to employ apprentices is one that they must be prepared to meet head-on to make it all worthwhile – it is time-consuming. In the first year, you will be working with a recent school leaver who will not be ready to hit the ground running. They will learn and develop quickly, but there is a significant investment of time during that first twelve months in particular where you will need to identify tasks that they can complete and that will also help them to develop. It can mean that senior staff spend quite a bit of time supporting these new staff members, but it is an investment we feel is well worth it.

That’s one of the best bits of advice I can give any company looking at taking on apprentices – make sure that your existing staff have the capacity to help and mentor your new recruits, and you’ll get the best out of everyone in the process.

Chris Huntley

What do you think the future holds for apprenticeships?

"Apprenticeships are an essential way for us to bring fresh blood into the industry, and to develop the kind of professionals who can take the company forward. If we are to continue succeeding and growing, we need a talented and capable team. Apprenticeships help us to achieve our goal of building and developing the company, and they’re absolutely vital to the future of surveying."