Apprenticeships transformed my business
When his IT and telecoms business hit a period of sudden growth, Anthony Impey recruited local apprentices to create a pool of talent with the skills that the company needed
I started Optimity in 2003 to supply IT and telecoms services to businesses and for years we enjoyed steady growth. This all changed three years ago when a client contacted us wanting an ultra-fast broadband installed the following week. This is impossible to do using traditional fibre optics, but because the client’s office was only across the street from us, I initially thought that we could throw a cable across the road so that they could share our connection! Instead, we chanced on a wireless technology that did exactly the same job as a physical piece of cable and this became the turning point for our business.
Suddenly every business wanted to buy their broadband from us… not only could we install it faster but it was also a lot cheaper than the big networks; however, we just couldn’t recruit enough people to keep up with the demand. It wasn’t as if we could go and hire lots of people with existing skills because what we were doing was so new. We tried recruiting graduates with limited success – their skills were limited, the things they had learnt at university about technology were often out-dated, and they frequently lacked ambition. And so we tried apprenticeships, and we struck gold!
We concentrated on recruiting local young people in East London where we’re based. This gave us a pool of talent that we focused on training with the skills that we urgently needed, as well as giving the apprentices a springboard for their careers. The training included studying in college, learning about different aspects of our business from Optimity team members and ‘shadowing’ senior team members as they did their jobs. Many of our original apprentices are still with us, or have continued their careers elsewhere, while others have gone to university. Whatever direction they’ve gone in, they’ve always taken big steps forward, and very often done better than if they’d followed their peers to university.
I genuinely believe apprenticeships have become the best way to start a career for any young person. It allows you to learn while earning, and although the starting salaries can be low to begin with, they rapidly rise to above that of someone who has gone to university (plus you don’t end up with huge debts). It’s not even necessary to have to choose between apprenticeships or university – with degree apprenticeships you can do both. If you’re ambitious and want to have a great career, there’s now no better start than with an apprenticeship.
Anthony Impey is founder and CEO of Optimity – a fast-growth company that supplies business broadband using a pioneering wireless technology. This year, the company is ranked as one of the top 50 most disruptive businesses in the Everline Future 50 Awards. It is now backed by Flemings Private Equity.
Anthony also works extensively with developing talent for the tech sector and has run a number of programmes to help local young people start careers in East London’s tech sector through apprenticeships. He is chair of the Federation of Small Business Skills Policy Board, vice chair of the government’s Apprenticeship Stakeholder Board, and a member of the City & Guilds’ Industry Skills Board.
Anthony has been awarded Workforce Development Champion by London Loves Business and received the Worshipful Company of IT Practitioners’ Award for Outstanding Achievement. He is also included in the Maserati 100 Index – a definitive list of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs who are supporting the next generation of talent.