The apprenticeship experience

The apprenticeship experience

FTSE250 firm, and their apprentice Oliver Stell, share their mutual experiences of the massive benefits Apprenticeship schemes create, ahead of the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April.

The business:

AO is one of the UK’s leading online electrical retailers. Since the business started, 15 years ago it has placed customer service at the heart of everything it does, making sure it delivers on a set of exceptionally high standards for its customers. As a result the company has established itself as a leader in online retail.

To maintain that position, AO wants to ensure that it has the right skill mix in place. From its digital offering to its huge logistics operation, AO needs qualified, reliable and innovative thinkers. That means recruiting the very best but also growing their own.

Doing this will ensure that the company is future proof, and has a sustainable pipeline of talent coming through.

A central part of that effort has been the company’s apprenticeship scheme, which it launched in 2014. As one of the first in the country to launch a digital apprenticeship, AO took on six young apprentices to work amongst its marketing, IT and video departments. The apprenticeship scheme, which was delivered in collaboration with Arch Apprentices, lasts two years, and allows teenagers, many from the local area, to concentrate on their chosen area of the business, completing relevant assignments to achieve their overall qualification.

Apprenticeships offer both a short and long term boost to a business. In the short term, new hires coming on board immediately provide an injection of energy and new thinking to the business while addressing skills gaps.

Longer term, the company not only improves its internal skills levels, but it also gains a reputation for developing talent, a crucial differentiator in the competitive labour market, where the best and brightest are in great demand. Beyond that, the workforce is better trained, more motivated and engaged with the business vision.

And certainly for AO, the impact has been immediate, so much so that in 2015, just a year after adopting the scheme, the business was awarded the Newcomer Large Employer of the Year Award at the National Apprenticeship Awards. The award recognised the instant impact of adopting apprenticeships had delivered for AO: not just in the digital sphere, but also in shaking up and improving its talent development in areas from facilities and gas installation to logistics and management.

But what of the apprentices themselves? Oliver Stell, a level 4 digital marketing apprentice at AO, said that since joining the company, he had had a great experience. “I’ve always felt like a valued member of the team, and have been given the right level of guidance and advice, whilst still being able to work independently and contribute to projects, which I can feel truly proud of. It’s been a fantastic introduction into the working world, and I hope to stay with the company for the foreseeable future.”

So what’s next? AO is always searching for people with the ‘AO DNA’ and its apprentices have shown this in abundance and have all embodied the AO driven and bold values. The mission statement at AO is ‘To be exceptional in the moments that matter’ and it feels that its apprentices have definitely proven that.

The apprentice:

How did you hear about the apprenticeship?

Through a third party provider – Arch.

What attracted you to and Digital Marketing specifically?

When I applied for the role I didn’t know much about aside from it being an online electrical retailer but when I looked into the company more I realised what a fun and innovative place it was to work. I loved the Founder, John Robert’s £1 bet story and his passion for the business. When I came to visit AO on my first interview I was really impressed. The business is full of fun and passion, you can feel it as soon as you step through the door. In regards to digital marketing, I have always been interested in the way companies sell and advertise themselves. As everything is moving online and becoming more digitally focused I decided this would be a great place to start.

What is a normal day like?

At AO there is no such thing as a normal day. There are all sorts of projects and campaigns to get involved in and the great thing is that I am not just seen as an apprentice, I am a valued member of the team. I am trusted with lots of responsibilities and have even managed my own projects and campaigns. We check the news every morning to see if there are any news trends we can jump on the back off with reactive content and I spend a lot of my time speaking to journalists about new campaigns.

How does the apprenticeship compare to other training or education you’ve experienced?

I didn’t chose the conventional route of college and university as I don’t like being a classroom, so this apprenticeship is perfect for me. I can learn all the skills I need to further my career whilst in work. I am also treated the same as everyone else in the team and trusted to make decisions on my own every day.  

What skills have you learnt already?

I have learnt a number of skills since starting at AO. I am now a more confident person, who works well in teams and on my own. I have also learnt some great communication skills by working in PR and by being encouraged to voice my ideas, I have improved my presentation and organisation skills too.

What do you expect to be doing in the next few years, following this training at

Following completion of my apprenticeship this year I hope to secure a junior role in my team and eventually after a few years hope to move into a managerial role. Internal progression is really encouraged at AO which is great and really makes you believe in yourself and your own career prospects. 

And tell us a little about you?

I’m 18 years old and this is my first office based job however I have had jobs when I was younger. My first job was on a farm and I have also been a waiter. I think these roles really helped my work ethic which I now use a lot in my current role.