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Businesses urged to ‘open up their minds’ to recruiting people with different characteristics

The Apprentice Store's David Massey
"We look at a person and we determine what that person can do" - The Apprentice Store MD David Massey.

Inverness IT service provider The Apprentice Store is urging businesses in the Highlands to consider those from challenged backgrounds as a way to improve recruitment and the transformation to digital working.

As staff gradually return to offices following the lifting of most Covid restrictions, companies are faced with a new headache of hiring and retaining staff in an extremely competitive environment, but looking at more diverse channels may be a tool to address the issue.

“Businesses should open up their minds to recruiting people with different characteristics,” said David Massey, the founder and managing director of The Apprentice Store – whose services cover web development, cyber security, IT support and consultancy.

“Be an inclusive employer rather than keep on recruiting through the same routes.”

Lack of qualifications not a barrier

The Apprentice Store is keen to stress that inclusivity can feature those who do not necessarily have stellar qualifications, who may have issues with autism, for example, or former offenders.

“We are used to looking at young people and what they have achieved at school,” added Mr Massey, who spent 13 years at RAF Kinloss working in avionics. “What we wanted to do was to remove the academic barrier.

“We look at a person and we determine what that person can do. It might not work out, but it might.

“By trying, you can change the perception and that will create the opportunity.”

As Mr Massey’s company name suggests, its aim is to secure IT apprenticeships for young people, create sustainable employment in IT and grow the sector.

He is keen to address what employers may have traditionally thought of barriers to staff employment should be re-examined, particularly in the light of an “acute” digital skills shortage, not just in Scotland, but globally.

Not everyone can go to university

“I created the organisation to be able to allow small businesses to engage with apprenticeships,” he noted. “Small businesses outsource their IT needs. To fill their needs we use apprentices.

“Not everybody has the ability to go to university or stay in academia – I left [school] at 16 – I don’t have a degree. If it wasn’t for some people who saw something in me, I would not be here today.”

Long gone are the days when being an apprentice meant being employed purely in a manufacturing context – the term can now be applied to a more up-to-date setting – with the digital skills to boot.

Scottish government offering possibilities to young people

Mr Massey said he was “comfortable” the Scottish government was backing apprentices and to that end The Apprentice Store is providing support to Skills Development Scotland (SDS), while he highlighted the importance of the Holyrood-backed Young Person’s Guarantee (YPG).

The guarantee offers every 16-24 year old in Scotland the opportunity of a job, apprenticeship, further or higher education, training programme or volunteering.

“It [YPG] is about you showing you are engaging with academia, support for work experience, apprentices,” added Mr Massey, whose company is one of 500 Scottish businesses which are signatories to the scheme.

Platinum award from Investors in Young People

To add to the suite of initiatives, The Apprentice Store has also received a Platinum award from Investors in Young People. The company is only the sixth business in Scotland to be awarded the highest level and the only IT business in the country to achieve it.

Mr Massey made his comments as The Apprentice Store issued its supporters awards for the second year running.

The awards are designed to demonstrate the social impact of choosing IT services from The Apprentice Store and to recognise the contribution of those businesses who continue to support the organisation in its mission to create sustainable employment for young people in IT in the Highlands.

The Apprentice Store now employs 12 staff with plans for further growth in the next year.

An apprentice’s view

Matthew Dickinson (21) has been with The Apprentice Store in Inverness for five years and is currently half-way through a four-year  IT: management for business graduate apprenticeship with Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

“At first I did a year apprenticeship and then a year working in the business and I have just started this secondary apprenticeship,” he said.

Matthew Dickinson is on a four-year Graduate Apprenticeship.
The Apprentice Store’s Matthew Dickinson.

“Before that I was unemployed and trying to find work. At that time I was trying anything I could to get my hands on some qualifications, because I didn’t do too great at school.

“I was doing an employability programme – that was what introduced me to David [Massey] in the first place and got me the job.

What is the attraction of an apprenticeship?

“Just the ability to learn and get paid at the same time. As long as your employer creates time to do the learning along with the apprenticeship and your reports, it is definitely a good experience and I would recommend it.

“David runs his company as a social enterprise and a very supportive environment.

Old view of apprenticeships as trades

“There is still maybe a perception around, it is more towards trades. I am not sure people realise the breadth of apprenticeships available – there could be more awareness around that.

“The graduate apprenticeship is four years and at the end you get a degree, so I am half-way through. It is being done remotely as it is quite a trek to go there on a regular basis.”