County Battery – An apprentice culture

County Battery – An apprentice culture

I started work at County Battery Services as an E-Commerce apprentice back in February 2013, almost 5 years ago now. I started working on our website, I suppose I was somewhat a guinea pig being one of the first apprentices County Battery employed. Since then the business has changed an awful lot, I myself have worked in almost every department of the business and am currently the Warehouse Manager, amongst other things. 

County Battery Services have taken that model that I myself went through and now only employ apprentices for a number of reasons, and I’m going to try and explain why.

 The year 2018 has seen huge growth for County Battery Services as we employed four new apprentices in October and November alone, putting our total to 6 apprentices amongst our 14-person team.

We have Jack, who after a successful year doing a level 2 apprenticeship in our warehouse is now starting a level 3 supervisor and team leader apprenticeship and manages two apprentices of his own, Kieran and Joe respectively.

Kieran and Joe currently work in our warehouse and are meeting and exceeding all expectations. After only two short months with the company they can both run the warehouse on a day to day basis, they are trained to work in our pack building department refurbishing drill batteries and fit batteries on to vehicles that come in over our trade counter.

We also have Robbie and Gabriel, two very new apprentices who have recently joined our growing team.  Both studying level 3 apprenticeships, Robbie works as part of our ecommerce department and Gabriel as part of our sales team. After only a short few weeks both are dealing with customers, bringing in sales of their own and are settling in extremely well.

Finally, we have Isaac who is studying a Level 3 AAT in accounting. Isaac started with us back in 2013 as a Saturday worker, working in our warehouse labelling batteries and helping out on the trade counter, since then Isaac has done every job in the business and can drop in and cover wherever we need him to. Earlier this year once Isaac finished school he decided to come and work for us full time in our accounts department and is an asset to our team, so much so that soon we expect Isaac to be heading up our accounts department and training apprentices of his own.

So, what’s the formula, why the success? It’s quite simple really, for the last couple of years County Battery have focused on building a team of apprentices that can work anywhere in the company. Whatever job we have employed them to do they start in our warehouse and on our trade/retail counter and are progressively trained to do every job in the business. It may seem strange that a young person wanting to study accounts or ecommerce is made to work in our warehouse, but this way they get to see the product, they get to feel the product and understand what we’re selling, in an industry as niche as our own, knowledge is power and we need all of our staff to be experts. This also makes us versatile, anyone can cover anybody’s job, and everybody gets to see and understand every corner of the business. Maybe someone starting in the  accounts department works in the warehouse and decides they prefer it, not a problem, we want our staff to be happy and work where they are most comfortable.

Why apprentices though, why don’t we apply this formula to people who have experience? For that exact reason, people who have worked elsewhere come with their own set of ideals and a lot of the time our most feared phrase ‘‘that’s the way I’ve always done it’’. Now this isn’t always a problem, a lot of the time people bring ideas from previous jobs and bags of sales experience which can be extremely useful. But the way we do it our staff get to learn everything, we’ll teach them sales, we’ll teach them customer service, we’ll teach them to think for themselves and whatever else they want, but most importantly we teach them that no idea is a bad idea, our staff members are encouraged to make their job role their own and then to change it and improve it, because who knows their job better than the person doing it. And then they teach it to somebody else, like I have done with Jack, and then like Jack has done with Kieran and Joe, and how I’m sure Kieran and Joe will with future apprentices.

 Finally, I’d like to address something that everyone seems to say as soon as I talk to them about our apprenticeship culture, and that is that ‘’they’re cheap to employ’’. Which in most businesses is true, and to some degree is true in ours, but we believe that our staff shouldn’t be paid relative to their age or past experience, but relative to their ability, and I can’t believe I’ve got all the way through this blog without saying the word, but how ‘lean’ they are.

As some of you may or may not know, at County Battery Services we operate a Lean culture, we follow Paul Aker’s book ‘2 Second Lean’ and as a result of this operate a ‘Lean Pathway’ system, this is probably an entirely separate blog, but simply put this is a progression table that begins with a new starter and ends with someone that can run the business, with all the requirements and attributes in-between. Now we can’t take full credit for this, we work closely with a company called Klime-Ezee who also follow Paul Aker’s 2 Second Lean and operate the pathway system, they have seen tremendous growth and development as a result of it.  Why is this relevant to pay? Because this is how we pay our staff, each level on the pathway relates to a level of pay, this way an apprentice is paid relative to their ability, not their age, and can see in black and white what they need to do to develop and progress to the point of running a business. 

By now I’m sure it has become apparent that at County Battery Services we strongly believe that apprentices are the future. But what is County Battery Services’ future? Batteries, definitely. A staff development company, hopefully.