Salon focus: Adam Flint on apprentices

In the second instalment of a series on apprentices, Adam Flint, operations director of award winning Skin Health Spa, reveals that young people can bring valuable skills to your business, and how he believes that better wages for apprentices will champion talent.

Professional Beauty: Why do you think apprenticeships are important for your business?

Adam Flint: I’m quite keen on young people getting involved. As a business we have four colleges local to us, each one of them provide a beauty course for between 15 and 25 students. There are all these NVQ 2 and 3 beauticians in the area, and not that many businesses that can afford to take them on.

I think we’re lining young people up for failure because at the end of it they’re most likely not going to get a job in the industry they trained in. So brining young people in earlier allows us to train and develop them. We get exactly what we want; they get more than they’re getting anywhere else. And the outcome is both parties should be happy. 

PB: What do your apprenticeships involve?

AF: We actually started this by chance; it wasn’t a programme. We had someone who came to us that was 15 years old, called Siobhan. She came as a Saturday girl, doing reception duties and after about six months she decided she wanted to explore the idea of a beauty qualification. So we put her in touch with the local college. She then went to college two and half days a week, and the rest of the time we paid for her to be in our clinic.

Then when she was qualified she built up her own little client base. When she reached NVQ level 3, we then took her on full time and she was very focused on not only expanding her qualifications and her day to day abilities, but she took an interest in the business itself. We then gave her an opportunity to become a trainee manager.

We also had an apprentice that was in head office. She came in at 16 and to be quite honest was a typical 16 year old – she was difficult to understand, she didn’t turn up on time and didn’t really want to work. Two years later she turned into someone that was running most of our office. 

Since then we’ve now had two other apprentices. Lara came in through a government programme, but after about seven months it was very clear that there was no point her going through the apprenticeship programme. Within less than 12 months she was doing all the orders on a weekly basis, taking care of all the mail, making sure that all the clinics are communicating with each other, so we took her out of that apprenticeship programme, because we felt paying her an apprentice’s wage was a little bit laughable.

Our apprenticeship schemes are quite flexible. We’re not a corporate, we’re very much entrepreneurs. I think if we had the college telling us exactly how we had to take these apprentices on, it wouldn’t work for us. We work with the local colleges, to say what training we will provide and what we won’t. They see that, often, we’re doing more. 

Skin Health Spa reception

PB: What challenges have you faced offering apprenticeship schemes?

AF: I think one of the biggest hurdles out there is the government and training businesses. The grants in all fairness, for the amount of time that you have to put into it, don’t add up. I think there are a lot of businesses out there that would love to take on apprentices, but are being bogged down by interviews to decide whether they’re suitable and a huge amount of paperwork, for £1500 a year.

You’ve then got the local training agencies that, in my opinion, aren’t particularly focused on the individual. They’re focused on a number of placements. Likewise, I think colleges aren’t particularly fussed about results, but they are interested in attendance and number of people.

That’s not what we do. We have a commitment to a human, to support them, train them, develop them and the end of it whether they chose to stay with us or they chose to go elsewhere, they should have value in the marketplace. Anyone we’re taking on, as far as we’re concerned is a full time employee.

PB: How do you go about taking on apprentices?

AF: We are reasonably good at recruiting. We bring in prospective apprentices for one or two days initially to see if they even want to come and work for us. Over the last six months we’ve had five potential apprentices come in and try a day or two, and some of them decided it wasn’t for them. In some cases, we see the potential but we might be a year away from them getting involved.

I think it’s important to pay those people for that time. It has to be a reciprocal partnership, and they can’t be seen as your little urchin that you do what you want with for the next year or two. These are pretty worldly wise people now. At 16 what they’re exposed to through their mobiles is what most of us in our 50s were exposed to 10 or 15 year ago. They’re pretty savvy and you’ve got to treat them like that.

LD: What benefits have you felt?

AF: Great reward in giving back to someone. The great thing about young people is when they’re interested they just soak it up. In a world where technology is moving in a very fast way they can support you with things that you might be a bit dumbfounded by. Nothing’s too much trouble. I understand the concept of Twitter and Facebook but I certainly wouldn’t waste my time doing it, whereas this is ingrained in them. They’re engaging with a community and it brings in a different age group. You’re not just dealing with people that are growing older, you’re engaging with people when they’re 16.

And I also feel that the younger generation have realised that they’re not going to be given an opportunity, they’re going to have to work for one. Maybe we’re lucky but of the four people we’ve done this with, every one of them has been a success. 

Skin Health Spa reception Manchester

LD: As a larger organisation, how do you oversee the apprentices’ training so they don’t get lost?

AF: We wouldn’t bring an apprentice on into our business without one of the main management team looking after them, so they learn a lot through osmosis. Maxine, the MD, is looking directly after the trainee managers. We don’t bring them in and drop them into open space. They've got pretty much one on one contact, and that’s why I think it’s worked for us. 

LD: Do you think the beauty industry is doing enough for apprentices?

AF: I feel that as a country we're not doing enough. I think there’s a lot more we can do. We shouldn’t have a huge amount of under 20s unemployed. Because there’s no value to them. I was fortunate – when I was 16 I started work, and yes it was tough at times, but I had some value.

There are 58m people in this country, and roughly 12m or 15m are children: what are we doing for them? There need to be more incentives for young people. I don’t think you can expect anybody to work for £80 or £100 a week. Apprentices need to have parents that are willing to support them and that’s not always the case. There has to be a bigger fee attached to the work they’re doing.

I don’t think this is just about our industry; it’s about our country. It’s laughable that we suddenly have an apprentice week, but no one knows about it. There’s no one that goes through an apprenticeship properly and doesn’t turn out to have a good life. So why aren’t we supporting it more? 

PB: What advice would you give to another employer?

AF: Don’t be afraid to do it and don’t listen too much to the bureaucracy. I would take the bones of the government advice and support and leave it there. Don’t get down into the nitty gritty of it. Run your own business and guide the person as best you can. Don’t put them into a role that you know is not going to work. Give them the courtesy of putting them next somebody that can help and support them. It works because it's the experience being pushed into the younger person. If you give the apprentice to a 22 year old, it’s not going to work.