Arch Apprentices recently joined a select group of education providers to have been awarded Grade 1 Outstanding overall by Ofsted under the new Common Inspection Framework. Here, chief executive Jason Moss explains Arch’s pursuit of excellence to Apprentice Eye.
Ofsted praised Arch’s leadership and management. What’s your management ethos?
For me, it’s always about excellence and being the best we can be. About 18 months ago we got together and the entire organisation decided on our vision and mission and what our values should look like. That ensured that we had something everyone believed in and that everyone was passionate about: something we all live and breathe every day. We think a lot of colleges and training organisations out there are fairly mediocre and we didn’t just want to be better than mediocre, it’s about always striving to be the best we can be. Everyone in the whole company believes in that. Our learners only get one chance, so if we say that we’re going to be much better in six months’ time, that’s great for us but it’s not much good for the apprentices we’re working with now. It’s about constantly striving to be better so that they get the best experience they can have.
What measures do you have in place to review and improve management performance?
On a weekly basis the senior leaders meet and we have a monthly senior management meeting focused on quality. We also have a quality standards board, which reports directly into the main Arch board and is chaired by Professor Bob Fryer (former chief learning advisor to the Department of Health and national director for widening participation in learning). We look at satisfaction rates among our learners and employers and achievement rates of people on our programmes, as well as where they go once their apprenticeships are over. We also have an internal verification team that quality assures our marking to make sure it’s of a certain standard and that the decisions are right. In addition to that we have City and Guilds and Edexcel come in for external verification to make sure that what we’re doing is as good as it can be.
Are there any notable changes you’ve made to improve apprenticeships generally?
We developed a new digital marketing apprenticeship framework because we thought the existing one wasn’t fit for purpose. So along with a host of employers we designed a new qualification. When people picture apprenticeships they often think of people being taken out of the workplace to perform tasks that might not be completely applicable to their vocation, so we tried to make a qualification that was very relevant to their day-to-day activities. We’re also an active member of a group that’s designing new trailblazer standards on behalf of the digital and IT industry. We’re making sure that the new standards that will be out there will be completely fit for purpose and match employers’ needs and expectations.
Ofsted praised Arch’s strong bonds with digital businesses. How do you go about selecting the right companies to work with?
We have a team of business development managers who engage with businesses on our behalf. It’s important for them to do due diligence on those companies because we’re going to be placing a young person in that business for the next 12 to 18 months and we need to be very confident that they will get the right amount of support. If they’re thinking of paying the minimum apprenticeship wage or are unlikely to take apprentices on at the end of the placement, things like that are red flags for us. We want to work with employers who see the intrinsic value of apprentices and are willing to pay young people a decent wage and give them what they need to succeed. We want companies who see apprentices as the next generation of their work force and not just some cheap labour..
How do you as an organisation find the right balance between pushing and nurturing your apprentices?
I think it’s based on the strong relationship we have with the learner and part of that is assigning them an apprentice advisor. In a lot of other training organisations, they’re taught in the classroom by one person but then somebody else goes into the workplace when they’re on the job to assess their competence and see how they’re putting into practice what they’ve learned. Often those two things aren’t joined up. What we’re trying to do as much as possible is ensure that the apprentice advisor is the person who takes them into the classroom and teaches them things, and then that same person goes out to see them at work. I think that’s something that’s very powerful and as far as I’m aware there aren’t many other organisations that operate that dual role.
Away from the skills side of things, what does arch do to prepare these young people for the world of work generally?
A large part of the preparation is the process they have to go through to work with us. We advertise the roles, which they then apply for, and we screen CVs and do a telephone interview before getting them in for a test at our assessment centre. After that we work with them to improve their CV and their interview technique, so that when they meet with an employer for the first time they’re in a far better position than they were before they came to us. Then once our learners have started with us we give them an induction, teaching them what it’s like in the work place, because they’ve often come straight from school or college. And we don’t just just focus on IT and digital skills, we constantly work with them on their maths and English too. We also work closely with line managers so they know what to expect from working with apprentices. Throughout the whole programme we ensure there’s great support from us and their line managers.