B4Box - supporting apprentices alongside Stockport Homes


In last month’s progress update for young people being supported by Iain Forrest, our Talent Coach at Stockport Homes, we profiled AL.

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, AL had started an apprenticeship with B4Box, a Stockport-based  hybrid social venture and construction contractor, who provide training and social enterprise services.

We now take a closer look at how B4Box successfully supports transitions into the workplace.

Before starting his apprenticeship, AL first completed a Construction Multi Trade Qualification with B4Box. These last 10 weeks on average and include a blend of workshops, classroom time and on-site learning. 

Michael Dickinson, Development Director at B4Box, said: “These skills courses allows tutors and other B4Box staff to get to know participants before they progress to apprentice schemes.”

Armed with what Michael calls ‘front-end knowledge’ of individual personalities and abilities, means that B4Box are better placed to iron out difficulties that can arise later on. For example, there was a period of time when AL suddenly stopped turning up for work. 

“We knew how capable AL was and the potential he has...” 

“We knew he could do this (the apprenticeship programme) and we were determined to unpick the attendance issues.” said Michael.

These centred around a simple misunderstanding concerning a change in line manager and some difficulties at home.

When these communication issue arose with AL, Michael acknowledged the value of Iain’s intermediary support. 

“Some young people will have worked with a key worker for much longer and confide in them first. This can make it quicker to get to the bottom of an issue,” said Michael.

AL was nervous about discussing the issues with anyone in work, but was comfortable to chat them through with Iain. AL agreed that Iain could contact Michael and pass on the information. Michael got to the root of the problem straight away. He identified that AL’s new line manager’s style didn’t suit AL and agreed to look at alternatives. The issue was resolved quickly, and without any ill feeling.

“With AL we worked with Iain to find out what the concerns were"

“It’s about telling new starters that you’re there for them, that they can talk to you about issues if you have them. We focus on giving people an opportunity and know that there can be bumps in the road when people start on a new path."

“At the same time, staff need to be flexible. There is an expectation that you’ll need to work across a number of different sites and won’t be with the same manager all of the time ". 

AL was able to comfortably make the transition to his next site team. 

Before lockdown B4Box flexibly reduced AL’s hours down from full-time to 30 hours. This was so that he could get home to provide childcare.

Michael acknowledged that where new staff don’t have a key worker to consult, there is a need to spend extra time getting to know that person and any barriers they might face. Michael says that the pre-apprenticeship courses’ small learning groups of eight help this process: lower numbers mean trainers can find the time to talk to individuals. Given that learners’ prior experiences of mainstream education may be negative, the fact that B4Box’s learning is not in a large, college-type building also helps with engagement. 

At the start of the Covid-19 lockdown AL was furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. B4Box topped up AL’s furlough payments by 20% to take him to full pay. Throughout this time, Michael has spoken to AL over the phone to check how he is coping, reassuring him that his apprenticeship role is secure and discussing potential timeframes for returning to work.

Iain has noted a dip in AL’s confidence over lockdown and believes he has missed the social contact that work was providing. Iain has been meeting up with AL for socially distanced walks around his local park. Iain has used these to discuss everything from family, wellbeing, confidence, and ways of making the return to work easier.

Michael accepts that bringing apprentices back in has not been easy. 

“We have social distancing in place in work vans,” said Michael. “Two employees go out in vans now rather than three. The third person would ordinarily have been an apprentice. Some contractors and customers also want to limit the numbers on their premises or in their homes.

“We’re expecting apprentices to be back very soon though. We’re having discussions to assess how comfortable apprentices are with returning and put in place any additional support they might require. When apprentices do come back in, there will be a ‘gearing back-up’ period to enable them to smoothly settle back in to their work and learning”. 

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