Apprentices at Clarion

Clarion Housing Group is the country’s largest housing association, with over 125,000 properties nationwide. Through its partnership with the IOEE’s Apprenticemakers programme, Clarion helps people to access employment and training opportunities through its charitable foundation, Clarion Futures. Alex Dean is Clarion’s National Apprenticeship Manager, and this month we caught up with him to talk about how giving people the best start in work can change their lives as well as their careers.

The IOEE’s Apprenticemakers programme works closely with a variety of organisations to build and strengthen apprenticeship programmes. It provides a range of support and services, from workshops, training and accredited qualifications for apprentices themselves, to mentoring training for the individuals who are supporting such apprentices. Having been with Clarion for six years, Alex recently stepped into this new role of National Apprenticeship Manager in June of last year, and he is ambitious, determined and passionate about helping people to kick-start their careers.

Alex says: “Internally, there’s always a big push to try and take on more apprenticeships, and that’s always a battle, because recruitment managers, with the best wills in the world, often want someone to just come in and do the job – which is, of course, not an apprentice, by the very definition of an apprentice. You need additional support, resources and training required for apprenticeships to be successful, and getting everything in place that you need can make my role very challenging. On a personal level, this is a brand new role created from a merger last year, so the fact that it didn’t exist before gives me even more of a push – to not only prove the importance and success of apprenticeships, but to prove myself too.”

However, Alex explains that alongside the challenges of his job come great rewards; last year Clarion celebrated starting their 750th apprentice, and they are currently working hard towards their ambition to reach a milestone 1000th apprenticeship: Alex says: “The rewards are massive, particularly around apprenticeships, because you’re not just giving someone a job, but you’re starting their career. When we look back at some of our case studies it’s amazing to see how far people have come. Some of those people started with us at a Level 2 or Level 3 position, and now they’re in a management role. Creating career pathways and actively supporting progression forms a key part of our mentoring programme. As a housing association, if you’re developing a career for tenants and residents, you’re actually helping that community at large.

In certain areas where we might have such things as antisocial behavioural issues, helping to move those people into employment and away from minimum wage and earn good money and have a career – the effects can be huge. It’s not just about employment; you’re actually helping people to get themselves a better start in life. Sometimes you have whole families who haven’t worked, and you can change the lives of a whole family.” This compassion and understanding for people’s personal and professional lives uniting runs through all of Clarion’s courses and qualifications, and Alex tells us how this has helped to secure Clarion Future’s strong reputation for supporting people and communities.

Alex says: “Needing that work-life balance is real life, and I think our approach is a bit more sustainable than some of the others out there, because we truly understand that people need their job to work with their personal life and vice versa. For example, we’re currently delivering a course that’s aimed at lone parents, which is specifically about how to set up your own business up if you have to work from home – so it’s dealing with such things as school run issues, finances and accounting, and how to put a business plan together.” The Apprenticemakers programme has enabled Clarion Futures to deliver sustainable training and industry-recognised qualifications, and the positive results have impacted not only those directly involved in the programme, but the wider business too.

Alex says: “Partnering with Apprenticemakers has allowed us to launch the programme with real momentum, and delivering this quality of service has ultimately had a very positive ripple effect throughout the business. We also recently launched our Clarion Futures Mentoring Programme to support and develop our internal apprentices. Being one of the largest housing associations in Europe, we were keen to ensure that the programme not only had national coverage, but also that the learning was standardised across the group to ensure each and every apprentice received the same high standard of support, whether the apprentice worked in property services or finance.

“We have very high objectives and expectations set around apprenticeship sustainment and progression. We use Apprenticeships as a proven and effective way of introducing new talent into the business, and to continuously build a strong and diverse workforce. We are proud to have supported 750 apprenticeship starts to date and are working hard to achieve hitting our ambitious target of 1000th apprenticeships. It will be a massive achievement, but I’ll be continuing to push forwards to get even more people trained and qualified – to give them a better start in their careers that could change the course of their futures.”