This week (7-13 February 2022) is National Apprenticeship Week – a country-wide celebration of the benefits and opportunities that apprenticeships bring to individuals and businesses.

The annual campaign highlights how technical education can equip people with the skills and knowledge for a rewarding career, and help employers develop a ‘future-ready’ workforce.

Here, Mansfield company Integrated Doorset Solutions Ltd tells how apprenticeships are a vital component in its business success.

Gareth Parkin knows all-too-well that an apprenticeship can be the springboard to a thriving career, having begun his working life as an 18-year-old apprentice in the highly-competitive world of accountancy.

Finance director Gareth Parkin on the factory floor at Integrated Doorset Solutions

After studying A-levels at The Holgate Academy Sixth-Form, Hucknall, he secured a coveted apprenticeship at global accountancy firm PKF. The opportunity this provided, coupled with “the ability to be humble, with no job too small” was the grounding for a successful ten-year spell with the company. After obtaining his professional qualifications and leaving PKF, Gareth progressed into senior finance roles at commercial estate agents FHP and exterior lighting company Kingfisher Lighting.

Now, as finance director at rapidly-expanding Mansfield business Integrated Doorset Solutions Ltd – part of the IDSL Group which, along with sister company Performance Joinery Ltd, employs 300 staff across two sites – he is a strong advocate of this training route, insisting it is a “fundamental” part of the company’s commitment to providing high-quality jobs to local people.

Since forming in 2015, the firm – which manufactures and supplies performance doorsets and architectural ironmongery to the health, education, commercial, leisure, office fit-out and high-end residential markets – has employed 15 apprentices, both past and present, through its training provider, West Nottinghamshire College.

Gareth, who joined Integrated Doorsets in March 2017, acts as a “link” between the company and the college – and ensures managers are aware of the opportunities apprenticeships can bring to each department and the business as a whole.

He said: “I push the apprenticeship route all the time, both in Board meetings and in casual conversations – and that goes parallel with any other training courses that West Notts College offers that might be appropriate to current employees at various levels.

“Having done an apprenticeship myself and by managing apprentices in previous roles, I really believe in this route into the jobs market. When apprentices succeed and do well, it naturally breeds confidence throughout the rest of the business.”

The IDSL Group currently employ five apprentices in roles spanning purchasing, administration, finance and manufacturing, which sees each recruit trained in partnership with the Mansfield college.

Ellie Bray joined Integrated Doorsets as a purchasing assistant in February 2021 following a stint working full-time at Odeon cinema in Mansfield. She previously spent two years studying at West Notts College, gaining a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Business.

The teenager started her apprenticeship last September, seven months into the role, after being offered the chance to supplement her on-the-job experience – ordering stocks and supplies such as materials and consumables – with a recognised training programme. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands, she is now working towards a Level 3 Business Administration apprenticeship.

Purchasing assistant and business admin apprentice Ellie Bray

“I was really up for it because I was looking for an apprenticeship anyway,” said Ellie, from Mansfield.

“I’ve never been interested in university. An apprenticeship means you do the actual job rather than just learning about it in a classroom and writing assignments. I wanted to learn as much as I could within a business and because I’d never worked in an office before, I thought the apprenticeship would help.

“I was already happy in my job but now it’s even better because the apprenticeship is making me learn more about my own role and everyone else’s role around me, so this was the best option for me. It’s definitely been the right move.”

Another teenager studying a Level 3 Business Administration apprenticeship is Libby Percival, who joined Performance Joinery as an administrative assistant last August, straight from school.

She said: “I always knew I wanted to work in an admin role within an office. A family friend who works here told me about the vacancy so I applied, did my English and maths online assessments through the college, and was offered the position.”

Administrative assistant and business admin apprentice Libby Percival

The seventeen-year-old, from Skegby, says the job role and her college studies go hand-in-hand.

“While studying on my apprenticeship I learn about various aspects involved in a business such as health and safety, and policies and procedures, and if it relates to another department you can speak to members of that team to get the information you need,” she explained.

“I have a monthly meeting on Microsoft Teams with my college assessor to check my progress and discuss new projects and assignments to complete. 

“My manager makes sure I’m given enough time to do my college work and I feel very well supported within the business because they see the apprenticeship work as being important to my development.”

Libby feels she’s been given the ideal launch-pad to an exciting future, saying: “Once I complete the apprenticeship I’m hoping it leads to other things, which will help with my career progression.”

“My long-term ambition is to become a director within a company. I realise I’d have to work my way up to that level but this will give me the grounding I need,” she added.

A career in the construction industry always seemed on the cards for Stewart Waterhouse upon gaining a Level 1 Diploma in Carpentry and Joinery at West Notts College. With several family members already working in trades such as joinery, plastering, and painting and decorating, he thought it was only natural he’d follow suit.

But a period of reflection during the Covid-19 pandemic, while working as a crew member at McDonald’s, led him to pursue an entirely different vocation.

“During lockdown I re-evaluated what I wanted out of life and decided I wanted to go into accountancy,” he explained. “I took online accountancy classes through a training provider and gained a level 1 qualification, then began studying at level 2.”

It was during this point that Stewart, from Kirkby, heard that Integrated Doorsets was recruiting for the role of finance assistant. Following a successful interview he joined the company in June 2021 and began studying the Level 2 AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) apprenticeship.

Stewart, 21, whose job involves processing invoices and checking statements, said: “The fact it’s a fast-growing business really appealed to me. Paying to study isn’t cheap and as you get older you realise that education is expensive, so being paid to learn while getting on-the-job experience is a win-win.

Finance assistant and accountancy apprentice Stewart Waterhouse

“I go to college every Thursday on day-release for AAT classes. My teacher, Chloe, is brilliant and I really like that I’m learning with other apprentices in the same stage of their career as me. Everything links up together. I apply things I do in the workplace to my college studies, and vice versa. Because I implement a lot of the theory into my job, I feel I’m doing a lot better in my exams at college.”

Stewart has nothing but praise for the apprenticeship route into employment.

“It means you’ve taken your education into your own hands and you’re pursuing a career that you actually want to do,” he said. “Because you work full-time, you’ve retained your independence, so you don’t feel like you’ve taken a step back by being a full-time student again. So it’s a good balance.”

Josh Colmer-Jewkes began a two-year Level 2 Wood Product Manufacturing apprenticeship in September upon joining Integrated Doorsets as a general operative – and says it was the “best decision I’ve made so far.”

The 19-year-old spotted the apprenticeship being advertised on the college’s website, having previously gained a Level 2 Technical Certificate in Architectural Joinery at its construction centre, in Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

General operative and wood product manufacturing apprentice Josh Colmer-Jewkes

“The joinery course gave me an appetite for the trade and I wanted to pursue it further – but to get a job I needed practical experience,” explained Josh, from Mansfield.

“An apprenticeship gives me that practical experience and I get paid while doing it.”

Josh attends the college once a week on day-release, at the same campus he attended as a full-time student.

He said: “In the morning we do theory work and go over things such as health and safety and different kinds of components, and in the afternoon we do practical work and apply what we’ve learnt.

“My managers are amazing with me. They always support me and encourage me to do well, both at work and at college. I really appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given.”

Josh, who fits glazing and ironmongery to different types of doors, sees a lengthy career ahead him.

“I really enjoy the trade and it’s something I can see me doing later on, whether it’s running my own business or working for this company,” he said.

Another trainee who has new career aspirations is fellow general operative Josh North.

The 17-year-old had been training for a role in the fitness industry, achieving a Level 2 Fitness Instructing qualification at York College while living in north Yorkshire.

But after deciding his heart wasn’t in the health and fitness industry, he applied for a Level 2 Wood Product Manufacturing apprenticeship at Performance Joinery in August upon relocating back to Nottinghamshire.

General operative and wood product manufacturing apprentice Josh North

“An apprenticeship will be worth much more to me in the future than just having a job,” he said.

“Having that grounding will make it so much easier if I want to move into another area of the joinery business.”

Josh attends the college’s construction centre once-a-week for his practical learning.

“Because I’m not 18-years-old yet I can’t use large machines in the workplace so I do flat-packing – putting the products onto palettes – and help around on the factory floor, assisting the machine operatives.

“At college I’m learning to use hand tools and I get to go on machines, under the supervision of teachers, to learn how they work.

“It means once I’m able to use machines in the workplace, I won’t need much training.”

Josh has this advice for other young people about to enter the world of work: “Find something you actually enjoy doing. Don’t follow your friends – and don’t rush into anything, like I did with the fitness instructing course. Once you’ve found something you enjoy, try your hardest to get an apprenticeship in it.”

Outlining his new ambition, he said: “I can see myself working at Performance Joinery for a good few years. Longer-term, I’ve thought about being an on-site joiner. I’d definitely like to remain doing joinery and wood production because it’s really rewarding.”

Gareth Parkin is delighted with the progress being made by all five apprentices.

“When your trainees start running out of work and are asking for more things to do, that’s always a good indication that they’re learning really well and are picking things up quickly. That’s a common theme that runs throughout all of them,” he said.

“Our apprentices meet once a month with our HR representative for a get-together and general discussion, providing another platform to share experiences and raise any issues amongst people going through the same process.

“I think that’s quite a nice feature of our approach, combining both formal and informal feedback that we continually learn from.”

Companies should have realistic expectations when hiring apprentices, says Gareth – although he insists patience and understanding will pay off in the long run.

“You know you’re not looking at experience or a packed CV,” he said. “It is all about them showing a passion for what they want to do. You fully know you’re going to invest time and effort into training them. As long as it’s going both ways, it should succeed.

“The potential that is there to be unlocked within individuals can be massive. It has to be the right job role, the right field, and the right person – but if you’re willing to invest in them, the rewards are there.

“At the end, you’ve got a fully-trained and qualified person, specific to the roles and skills requirements within your company – and hopefully they go on to flourish and have a good career.”

Gareth isn’t the only high-profile supporter of apprenticeships at Integrated Doorsets, whose head office and main manufacturing site is at Millennium Business Park, supported by a separate production facility at Crown Farm Industrial Estate, both in Mansfield.

Nigel Richmond, chairman of the IDSL Group, said: “I started my working life as an articled clerk 50 years ago, undertaking my accountancy studies through a correspondence course and night school at my local college. I guess that was the ‘modern apprenticeship’ of the day. That foundation training after leaving school has stood me in good stead throughout my career.

“I still believe that further education, with targeted qualifications combined with actual work experience and on-the-job training, offers a unique career development experience.

“The IDSL Group has recruited several apprentices under the current schemes and will continue to do so. We have had a good experience and it’s gratifying to see the bulk of our apprentices mature and develop with us, and in some cases, using the qualifications and experience gained to go on to develop their careers further with other employers.”

Karen Millward, head of employer engagement at West Nottinghamshire College, said: “It’s always a privilege to witness the success of apprenticeships within local businesses, even more so when this turns into a lasting partnership that helps address recruitment needs and business growth.

“Gareth’s story about how his career started is testament to the opportunities an apprenticeship can create. When promoting vacancies, we make sure to tell candidates how senior managers and directors started out, as this helps them to see what the role can lead to.

“It’s important to us that we work closely with our employer partners, understanding their needs and providing the best candidates for the roles on offer. Working with students already studying at the college gives us an in-depth knowledge and ability to match their skills to the needs of the business.

“Because the IDSL Group is based centrally in our catchment area and is continually growing, it provides fantastic opportunities across all departments within the business. Travel to work is easily manageable and the prospects for career longevity are evident from the outset.”

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