Interview: Stephen Jeffery, CEO of the London Learning Consortium

Apprentice Eye recently caught up with Stephen Jeffery, CEO of the London Learning Consortium (LLC) a Community Interest Company that provides vocational programmes, work-place learning, apprenticeships and online courses.

What advice would you give to a school leaver who is unsure of whether or not to go to university?

Firstly, celebrate the fact that you have a choice! I say that because it is fantastic to live in a country where our school leavers have a range of choices for their future, whether that is employment, further study or, in the case of a well-run apprenticeship, both.

I would urge anyone to do what you love and love what you do.  You will be working a long time and although you may change jobs or even careers during your working life there must be some key characteristics of a job that gets you out of bed in the morning and drives you to succeed.

The real difficulty for  many people faced with  tough decisions is the absence of a time machine. One of those would be very helpful so that you could  shoot forward and see what happened after you made a certain choice. Nonetheless, you can get a sense of what your future may hold by asking around and researching the benefits of university or an apprenticeship. There are some good comparators online and these can help you get a sense of what path you should take  and what you may have to trade off.

That said, I never had a clue what to do when I was younger, I just developed a passion for training and skills development and wanted to run an organisation that offered opportunities for those that didn’t do so well in education the first time around. That is why I set up LLC in 2005, to help school leavers and the unemployed get the training and skills to enter the job market on a better footing.

Do you think that apprenticeships should be seen as equal to university degrees?

They are different things. One is work-based and one is academic – although there is an attempt to blur some of these lines. I studied as a mature student to get an MBA but this was after several years as a practicing manager, during which time I gained a number of vocational management qualifications all the way up to university entry level. The study and disciplines of both have things in common   but  are also different in many ways. If you take an apprenticeship pathway and apply yourself enough  to succeed, you can always sign up for a degree course later in life and your employer may even wish to help pay for it.

One thing I do know, both as an employer and a provider of apprenticeship training through LLC, is that it is the rounded experience of the individual plus their qualifications, as well as their attitude, that makes all the difference. It always boils down to ‘will this person fit in here’ and ‘will they work for the aims of my business’. I have had both good and bad employees with or without degrees, the paper is one thing, the person is another.

What advice would you give an employer unsure about hiring apprentices?

I would say go ahead and take  someone on as there  can be  both financial and business benefits to taking on an apprentice. But select them well and make sure they have a clear training plan, a good training provider and most importantly, get buy-in from your employees.

Ask yourself the following questions: what experience will they have here with us? Do we have the infrastructure to support them and provide them with an all-round experience of our business and the role we want them to play in it?

Some practical tips for would be employers: never hire an apprentice from a CV  instead get them to submit an application form or write a supporting statement, If they really want the job they will do it.

You could also offer a work trial or work experience week for a number of potential candidates. This can enable you to choose from a group of applicants and involve your existing staff on getting  a better picture of who you could offer an apprenticeship position to.

I know this can sound like a lot of work but apprentices can offer a great deal to your business. It is good to get the appointment right so it can be a success  and that their desire to work for you as an apprentice matches your desire to make your business a success.