The spirit of being a team player

Martyn Sloman tells us what makes an award-winning apprenticeship programme

Apprenticeships have moved to centre stage in skills training. Given the profile of the concept, it was to be expected that a strong entry would be needed to win the 2014 TJ award for this category. So indeed it proved. However, what was impressive about the Spirit programme was that it placed apprenticeships firmly in the business context. It was not over-sold and the L&D team did not see apprenticeships as the answer to all their human resource problems. It was one element in a broader picture but a most critical one. 

Almost everyone will know one of the 750 licensed premises owned and managed by the Spirit Pub Company – Chef and Brewer is just one of several brand names. Many of us will, at one time or another, have worked behind a bar. Few of us will immediately think of the licensed trade as a place for high-quality training and a career opportunity. Spirit’s L&D team were well aware of this perception when they embarked on redesigning their training initiatives. Their presentation to the TJ panel of judges was refreshingly honest on this point. The team had identified the following problems: high turnover of staff; perception of limited progression opportunities; training directed at entry level with limited development for middle management; ultimately employment seen as a job not a career.

These problems were explored further in 2010 through focus groups and one-to-one interviews with general and business development managers. It was recognised that the development of an effective programme for team leaders was needed. This is the pivotal role in the company structure. A shift leader in a larger pub could be responsible for the management of 20 team players (Spirit’s preferred term for their staff). He or she will carry out a wide range of duties including the co-ordination of all the necessary supplies and provisions. Team players are promoted to the leadership role because they are good with guests, have solid technical skills and have a natural flair for hospitality. They can assume this role at a relatively young age. What Spirit required was a programme that had credibility within the organisation and for the individual and where, importantly, most of the training would be delivered in the workplace.  The result was the formulation of The Team Leader Development Programme, Spirit’s award-winning entry in the apprenticeship category of the TJ Awards 2014.

At the planning stage, the intention was that the programme would be linked with a qualification. Joanne Bradford, Spirit’s national qualification manager, designed a programme that would give team leaders a Level 2 NVQ qualification accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management. There is currently a huge national effort on promoting apprenticeships – and a drive for numbers to serve the broader political agenda. One important question is whether team leader development would have taken the apprenticeship route if there had not been national encouragement. Here Bradford argued that, although Spirit would have had a development initiative of some sort in place, the increased political commitment to apprenticeships undoubtedly assisted in giving the programme momentum. The link to a recognised qualification gave the programme credibility with both managers and participants. Further, Spirit’s participation in the Government’s ‘Trailblazer’ programme (where groups of employers come together to design apprenticeship structures) has helped to ensure the relevance of the programme to activities in the workplace.

Moreover, the new national emphasis on vocational qualifications has helped the Spirit team to position this new programme in the wider context of career development.

The results to date are most encouraging. Overwhelmingly, the team leader apprentices report that the programme is relevant to their role, that the feedback received has helped them improve and that the apprenticeship is preparing them for their next role. More than a third of team leader apprentices have already progressed to the next management level. Perhaps the most significant statistic, for an industry with high attrition is the following: turnover for apprenticeships is 33 per cent compared with 96 per cent for non-apprentices. General managers report on higher productivity achieved through more motivated and satisfied team leaders. So what have the Spirit learning and development team learnt as a result of their efforts?  With the benefit of hindsight would they have done anything differently? According to Mark Peters, Spirit’s head of Learning & Development, the main change would concern the delivery of the training. In the early stages, this was handled by an external company; it was some time before Spirit became a recognised training provider internally. In retrospect, he believes that this change should have been made at an earlier stage. Bradford’s view is, rather than rolling out a suite of programmes in sequence, the more important interventions should have formed part of a single process.

Finally, Peters offers the following comments on the value of entering the TJ Awards:  “Hospitality is a tough sector when it comes to team turnover. Developing and retaining the best people is critical to our long-term success and we believe that we have developed a programme that will be a real game changer when it comes to the way that people see a career in hospitality – indeed, our retention and progression figures clearly back this up. Winning the award, however, is the real icing on the cake and validates the hard work my team have put in over the last few years in making this programme so successful. The judging process was invaluable and the whole experience has strengthened our resolve to develop further career enhancing development programmes.”


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