Apprenticeships are gaining currency among employers and young people, thanks in part to a government drive ? led by Sir Alan Sugar – and an understanding of the importance of vocational learning. But the canny employer has always recognised the value of handing down skills, and the wise employee understands that experience can often count for as much as knowledge. As one young hairdressing apprentice said: ‘I decided to do an apprenticeship as it makes you a better hairdresser. You gain a lot more experience and grow confidence you would never achieve by going to a college.’
Robin Chiles, the director of Mounts Hill Woodcraft and Design Ltd in Cranbrook, is one local employer who has taken on young people since he started his bespoke furniture-making business thirty years ago.
He said: ‘Each year we take one or two school-leavers ? male or female ? between the ages of 16 and 18, mainly from local schools.’
Felicity Parsons of The Rye Retreat takes on hairdressing apprentices and told us: ‘We have trained staff for the last 15 years and half of our top stylists completed their training with us. We offer hairdressing apprenticeships to NVQ level 3 with in-salon training alongside one day a week at a training school in Ashford.’
Robin, a self-confessed traditionalist, bases his approach on the old City and Guilds qualification. He tells us: ‘Our apprenticeship lasts three years. They do a year in the workshop with us, learning the basics like sanding and finishing, then build up their experience in a logical way. If they wish to go to college in the second year we give them time to do a day release in the carpentry and joiner course at college.’
But why take on an apprentice? Robin says: ‘We get the job done how we want and to the standard we want. We have a first-class team where they train each other. My senior joiner started as an apprentice eight years ago and is now training his third apprentice.’
The structure of the course allows the young person to be in charge of his or her own destiny to a certain extent through working harder to achieve each section. Felicity says: ‘The Rye Retreat has seven apprentices at the moment, all at different levels and abilities. Each student is given a personalised training plan that they work on over the two-year period.
‘As you get sections of your qualification signed off, you can start to do clients on the salon floor, helping gain more experience and building up a clientele, so when you do qualify, you are already on your way to understanding how to run a column.’
Other important skills are picked up along the way. Robin says: ‘One of the important parts of the training is site fitting. They have to be polite and well-dressed. They learn that we always clear up after ourselves ? we will vacuum the cabinets before we finish, for example, and not leave piles of rubbish around.’

Employees seek qualifications in English and Maths but they are also looking for passion, a willingness to learn and a desire to commit. Robin says: ‘The correct attitude is very important. With our successful apprentices, the family back-up is key and an understanding that very few woodworkers drive Bentleys! Having said this, a skilled woodworker will never be out of work.’ Felicity agrees: ‘Apprentices need to be passionate about hairdressing, interested in keeping up to date with the trends, hard-working and happy to work their way up.’
As for money ? unlike the old days when young people used to have to pay to be indentured, they are now protected by the minimum wage. Robin says: ‘They will get incremental pay rises according to experience and will start on the Government’s minimum wage.’
While the scheme is a big commitment for the employee, the payback is tremendous. Felicity says: ‘There is nothing as special as seeing the look on their face once they have done something for the first time and are so proud of what they have achieved.’

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