D&A Chamber of Commerce Apprenticeships Case Study

Having been one of the founding partners of the Developing the Youth Workforce (DYW) regional group in 2016, D&A Chamber of Commerce (DACC) wanted to lead by example in taking on apprentices within their business in order to show more vocational routes for young people in action.

“As a Chamber, we advise and encourage employers to take on apprentices, giving young people opportunities within their businesses. We couldn’t do this without going through the process ourselves, giving apprentices opportunities within our own business,” says Alison Henderson, CEO of DACC.

With D&A College being a well known training provider and equally being a founding partner of this DYW regional group, it was a natural fit for the Chamber of Commerce to team up with D&A College as their apprenticeship partner.

“The college has been a great help to us right from the start. From guidance to posting our first apprenticeships.scot application at the beginning of this journey, to providing us with our foundation and modern apprentices still to this day, the breadth of support we have had from the college has been fantastic. They are an apprenticeship partner that fits us perfectly,” says Alison.

The Chamber were a team of 7 when they began the process of taking on apprentices in 2019: “We were working well as a team at the time; nevertheless, it was the apprenticeship programme that helped us broaden our vision to the right skill sets we didn’t realise we needed in our business,” states Alison.

The DACC & DYW teams.

The first apprentice the Chamber took on was a modern apprentice in Digital Marketing. “That was a great learning experience for us in bringing a young person into our team,” cites Alison. “It was something we realised we were a little unprepared for as when you bring a young person into your team, they may be someone who is experiencing their first taste of working life so you have to make sure you can commit the time to teach them the basics and support them in whatever way they may need.”

Since then, they have had 14 apprentices across their teams at both the Chamber and DYW, ranging from foundation to graduate level with some of the foundation and modern apprentices becoming graduate apprentices within the business, working towards a university degree. According to the Chamber, the key to having such a successful apprenticeship programme as a micro business is the time they dedicate to their apprentices and the process the college has as their provider in order to find the right apprentice for them.

Esther Doig, who is a Business Lecturer and Development Officer at D&A College, has aided the Chamber by matching them with their Business Administration and Management apprentices: “I use a type of speed dating approach when matching a foundation apprentice (FA) with a mentor,” says Esther. “Once we have work placements agreed by employers, I share the role profiles to the FAs which includes challenging tasks set by the businesses that the FAs will undertake during the apprenticeship. I then ask the FAs to select 2 or more of the businesses and ask them to give a presentation on why they would like to work there. We then share their adapted CVs to the mentors, inviting them to the college for a speed chat with the apprentices. From this, the hope is that both mentor and FA feel they have a placement that will be satisfying, motivational and productive.”

“Esther has been an absolute star in supporting us in our apprenticeship journey,” notes Alison. “She has really understood our business needs and matched us with such wonderful young people who have brought so much to our business and helped us improve our own mentoring skills.” 

“We now have 25 team members across the Chamber and DYW with 6 of them being a previous or current apprentice like Grace, who completed her FA with us and has stayed within the team and Glen, who was also an FA and is now a graduate apprentice with us,” says Laura Rhoney, the Chamber’s COO. “Having apprentices in our team has not only added to our headcount but it has improved our business dramatically. Having a multi-generational team has been so beneficial as we all learn from each other and bring different values, backgrounds, perspectives and fresh ideas to the table which is vital in business.

DACC apprentice Glen Kelly.

“Seeing the impact it has had on our apprentices has been rewarding as well, watching their confidence grow and watching them find the area of business that they enjoy working in. We have had apprentices join our international trade team and others in a more people focused HR role. One of our graduate apprentices, Lucy, is leading the Apprenticeship Ambassador Programme and another, Ross, is the first person in his family to go to university which is fantastic,” notes Laura.

“Taking on apprentices has also been beneficial in future proofing and succession planning, particularly as a micro business,” adds Alison. “It has allowed us to grow the organisation by having those who have been with us in junior roles move up, creating senior roles where they can then train others and work across different areas of the business so we can expand our operations.” 

When asked what advice the Chamber would give to employers thinking about taking on an apprentice, Alison said, “Ensure you find the right apprenticeship partner for you, that understands your business and its needs as well as making sure you have all the processes and systems in place in order to take on a young person.”

“Also make sure that you are able to commit the time needed to take on a young person in your business and support them,” advised Laura. “If you manage it right, you will get so much out of it as they truly do become loyal team members and part of the future of your business.”  

The Apprentice's Perspective - Glen Kelly

Glen Kelly - Membership Executive at D&A Chamber of Commerce, previous FA and current GA with the Chamber.

“I chose to do my FA with D&A College as having gained a Higher in Business at school already, I didn’t feel like there were any good opportunities for me to gain more business experience in 6th year. The FA gave me that extra experience I was looking for.

The college was such a support to me throughout my FA. I’m still in touch with Esther who was my assessor, I see her quite a lot with my work at the Chamber and with the team continuing to take on foundation and modern apprentices. It was Esther that chose the Chamber of Commerce for me to go to as she knew it would be the perfect setting for me to gain more insight into the business world and it really has.

Esther, along with my other lecturers, were all a great help through both the academic and industry side of my FA. My FA was really great, it gave me the basic skills necessary to do the job and it’s also given me a pathway into university so I can gain industry knowledge whilst gaining my degree.

Glen with a member at a DACC event.

After my FA, I applied to go to Dundee University and got in. I was planning to go to university through the standard route but Alison, our CEO, had said that if I wanted to stay and work at the Chamber that they would be happy to offer me a graduate apprenticeship. They put me in each department so I could get a taste of every aspect of the business and find the area I wanted to pursue if I decided to do the GA.

For me, that ended up being sales and engagement and there happened to be a place in the membership team. The idea of getting paid and gaining industry experience rather than going to university the normal way was a no brainer and I’m so glad I made that decision.

I would absolutely recommend doing an FA to anyone that is thinking about it as I wouldn’t have the expertise I do now. It is something I suggest to students all the time when I visit local secondary schools and I’m glad I’m able to share my apprenticeship journey with them if it is something they are considering.”

Click here to find out more about our apprenticeships at D&A College and how your business can get involved.