Usdaw Union Learning Rep (URL) Shirley Smith has made a real difference to a workplace apprentice scheme in her own store at Tesco Thirsk. Shirley has been able to use her knowledge and experience to offer lessons on how to help apprenticeship programmes succeed – something that has benefited both the apprentices and employer.
Shirley had been a trainer and assessor for four years under the old-style apprenticeships scheme so she was interested when the new scheme was announced.
When I found out about the new apprenticeships scheme, I realised that I had a lot of experience to offer. I went around the store speaking to the day and night staff about the benefits apprenticeship bring and explaining how they work”.
Shirley attended the apprenticeship induction day and met the trainer Neil who ran through the changes to the scheme. Shirley explained:
Over the coming weeks I helped 5 people to register their interest for the scheme”
My store manager supported me to do this on a 1-2-1 basis by giving me time off from my job. I also helped them complete the Usdaw skills tests, maths and English at the same time. I set up a “what’s app” group for the apprentices so they had that initial support from me from the start and support from each other”.
Four of those expressing an interest signed up to complete the apprenticeship and Shirley spent time with all of them on a 1-2-1 helping them through their coursework. This was very helpful to them but also to Shirley who learnt a lot on how best to support apprentices.
I do believe that the role of the ULR is vital in the apprenticeship scheme. The support that they were given in the early stages is the reason why we still have 4 in this scheme. Setting up the “what’s app” group meant that we can all support each other and the extra benefit of the learning rep providing one on one training and support is very important”
Shirley also feels that it is important to clarify any issues that might affect the apprentice as soon as possible.
For example, one of the apprentices asked me about the freeze on training over the Christmas period and how they felt under pressure to catch up. They did not feel confident in speaking to their manager as they thought it was the manager’s view and not company policy. When I explained that the hours were adjusted throughout the year to accommodate the busy periods such as Christmas, they went away happy”.
Shirley also highlights the importance of practical support from the store manager and from Usdaw’s own learning team. She said:
I am given time as a ULRs to support apprentices and they are given the time to complete their coursework. I have also been kept and informed and supported by my Usdaw Mobile ULR who keeps me up to date and sorts out issues.”
Usdaw Project Worker Martyn Warwick said:
Apprenticeships are one of the most important learning developments in recent years and they are a priority for Usdaw’s own Lifelong Learning campaign. Usdaw reps and ULRs can play a key role in a successful apprenticeship programme by promoting the benefits of apprenticeships and supporting those who take them up.”
Dedicated ULRs like Shirley show the way forward to apprenticeship success. Their hard-won practical experience needs to be embedded in the workplace.”