Bed manufacturer Silentnight, a company that has been investing in apprentices for more than 10 years, believes the new shift in the demands on the public sector could lead to cause for concern.

As 2015 drew to a close and the targets for apprenticeships across the public sector grew, many feared the quality of the schemes offered to young people could be compromised. Setting out the Government’s plans for this year, David Cameron told how the public sector would be forced to pay for 200,000 more apprenticeship places to deliver on the Government’s election manifesto promises. With around 75% of apprentices in the private sector, and just 16% in the public sector, it would appear the gap for educating and training could not be any wider.

Silentnight has urged for more focus to be placed on seeking the best talent for the right company, arguing that by supplying young people with businesses which offer top quality schemes, it will allow trainees to grow and be retained within the company.

Traditionally a company like Silentnight would not take on business apprenticeships. However, in the last five years the manufacturer has offered a series of different roles across different disciplines of the Lancashire-based business. Its two-year programmes include junior management, costings, manufacturing, customer services, supply chain management, mechanical HGV and logistics.

In the last five years, the company has taken on 37 apprentices, 14 of whom have graduated and are currently employed full-time within the organisation. In October last year, a new Ofsted report found that not enough apprenticeships were providing advanced, professional skills in the sectors that needed them most – further supporting the idea that the drive to create more apprenticeships has diluted their quality. For Silentnight, there was a real need to take pride in the kind of opportunities it offered young people. The Ofsted findings signalled even more how people needed the chance to grow and develop within its company.

The British manufacturer aims to bring apprentices into all the key departments of the business with the intention of growing opportunities for young people in the future, working with different training programme providers to deliver rounded skillsets for the workforce. The majority of courses take place at Themis at Burnley College in Lancashire.

Wherever possible to map out the career path for an apprentice, the business is keen to ensure the learning extends beyond the programme. The scheme is designed to give the apprentice a flavour of their department in the business over the two-year training period. Applicants are interviewed and asked to challenge 'the way we have always done things’ – Silentnight wants those applying to bring fresh ideas and opinions and challenge the traditional, labour-intensive norm.

“Committing to quarterly reviews is vital for the success of our programme,” says Dr Julie Dix, who leads the apprenticeship scheme for Silentnight Beds. “The apprenticeship scheme allows those developing their skills and knowledge to receive constant two-way feedback. These sessions form the basis not only of continued growth from the employee but also provide us with tools to further
improve the scheme for employees and future apprentices joining the team.

“We also commit to giving a good rate of pay and provide high quality training. Our driver is that we want motivated and committed people in our business. We want to invest in our people to cement the future of the business.”

There are numerous benefits to any business in employing apprentices. Specifically for Silentnight, following the recession and a long period of no recruitment, the company ultimately had an ageing workforce. This average age has reduced from 46 to 42 in the last four years, which in a labour-intensive environment is very important. Unlike many companies offering competitive apprenticeships, Silentnight has committed to paying above the national minimum wage and offers a guarantee of full time employment, a return they achieve from recruiting a high quality intake.

Speaking about her journey on the apprenticeship programme, Kim Thompson, explained how she joined the company as a junior management apprentice: “My apprenticeship has been challenging and varied. I have been given the opportunity to learn all aspects of the business, which I wouldn't have perhaps had open to me in other employment intake.”

Kim, who is now employed full time with Silentnight in the planning department as a permanent material controller for the factory site, adds: “I have really enjoyed working closely with the team, learning from the different aspects of the company. It helped me to mould my place within the company. I spent three months in several departments learning the roles they do and the effects this has on the business. During my apprenticeship I worked on projects in planning, new product introduction, shop floor management and process improvement. I spent one day a week at Burnley College, where I completed my NVQ Level 3 in Business and Administration.”

Currently Silentnight employs 670 staff including those on the apprenticeship scheme.