Banging the drum for apprenticeships

Small businesses need apprenticeships trained in digital marketing skills to build their online brand, says Penny Power OBE

To find myself working within the world of apprenticeships is a real honour. I have enormous respect for the people working in this sector, the parents who see the light and the young people who realise that this is the right path for them.

I began working with apprenticeships in 2011. Until then, my world had been about enabling technology and building small business communities. My husband and I started an online social business network in 1998, and helping our members across the world learn how to take advantage of the ‘digital age’ and build their online brands became our passion. Skills were a large part of what we did and still do: passing on our knowledge and encouraging peers to share their skills and experience with one another.

In 2011, after researching and writing about digital business in Britain, I realised that there was a gap in the market, and that a ‘scalable’ solution was needed for small businesses to train people with digital marketing skills. I looked on the National Apprenticeship Service website, and it became clear that this did not exist as an apprenticeship. In March 2011, I wrote a blog about this called ‘SME meets SMA – Small business meets social media apprentice’ and received an unprecedented amount of comments from the business community about their need for this.

One year later, we launched the Digital Youth Academy and I began working with the Pearson Group, further education colleges and a handful of private training providers to run social media apprenticeships. Our goal was to introduce a new apprenticeship to the market that would help young people get jobs that played to their digital strengths and embed them into the small business community. It was a tough three years. Building the curriculum, funding the e-learning platform and helping colleges to adapt their own skills was not easy. One of the toughest parts was seeing the way in which apprenticeships were marketed to small business; I was not supplying directly, I had some influence but I was not in control of the outcomes, and that was frustrating. In October 2015, I sold the Digital Youth Academy to the Seetec Group, a national provider of youth employment and apprenticeship training.

My experience with the Digital Youth Academy gave me inside knowledge of the digital marketing sector and of the challenges within the industry. Critically, it also left me with enormous empathy and a desire to find solutions to bring ‘business’ and ‘skills’ together.

In 2016, I find myself back at the starting gate. I’m launching my third start-up, and this time I want to employ apprentices and trainees. I want to work with local further education providers and build business communities across the UK that see the value of the training, recruitment and support that apprenticeship providers give.

I truly believe that apprenticeships are a remarkable asset to our economy, the challenge is ‘keeping skills relevant’. I love the fact that bridges are being built and business is working closely to build the frameworks and the curriculum for tomorrow’s apprentices. This is a great start, and for my part I will keep banging that drum.

About Penny

Penny Power OBE is chief executive of The Business Cafe Ltd and digital ambassador for the Seetec Group.

She has a particular interest in ‘microbusinesses’ – those that employ fewer than nine people, plus sole traders and start-ups. These companies make up 95 per cent of the business population and often find the workload and strain of going digital tough to manage around their already demanding schedules and business needs. To combat this resource and skill issue, Penny founded the Digital Youth Academy in 2011. The academy has now helped over 1000 young people into work and was sold to the Seetec Group in 2015.

Her latest business venture is a new concept in SME support. The Business Café® will be a network of café lounges dedicated to small and medium-sized businesses; the cafés will be run and managed by young adults who will be trained in giving digital skills to the local business community. The concept is especially targeted at rural towns where businesses need this focal point and support for growth.

Penny was awarded an OBE in 2014 for her commitment to ‘Entrepreneurship and social digital development’.


Twitter: @pennypower / @TBusinessCafe

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