Apprenticeships are key to recruitment and development – and they’re not just for school leavers

Family First are big advocates of team members completing apprenticeships and learning while they earn, with more senior staff now taking the opportunity to boost their careers with new qualifications

It has never been more important to recruit and retain the best team members you can in the nursery industry.

One way that Family First invest in their teams across the country is offering apprenticeships. These have benefits for the nurseries in their group, and the people undertaking them.

While practitioners have the chance to learn while they earn and gain valuable qualifications, managers can develop their own staff.

Since Family First was established in 2019, the group has had almost 150 people go through an apprenticeship programme – and are keen for even more to do so in the coming years.

Early years specialist Michele Falconer is Family First’s lead on apprenticeships, and works closely with specialist training providers Realise, and the learners as they progress through their qualifications.

“It’s amazing to see when people do well, achieve what they want to, take on more responsibility and be more confident day to day,” Michele explained.

“The best part of my job is meeting people and working out how they want to learn and the best way to help them develop.” Michele explained the support team at Family First were always to pass on their own knowledge to colleagues.

“Our early years team has a wealth of experience and skills we can share,” she added. “If we can help upskill and train our own staff then they will be brilliant practitioners.”

As well as a proud record of Level 2 and 3 apprentices designed for people early in their careers, Family First also support more experienced team members who want to develop themselves with Level 5 Early Years Practitioner and Nursery Manager apprenticeships.

Michele said they were perfect for people who wanted to become good leaders as well as exceptional while working with children.

“Managers will often get into that position because they are brilliant on the childcare side of things,” she said. “What they lack is the experience in things like marketing, budgeting and other commercial aspects.

“Developing people and investing in them means you can help them grow, this in turn supports retention as people see a clear career progression pathway.”

One of these combining an apprenticeship with a management position is Ashleigh Elmer, 33, nursery manager at Kloisters Kindergarten & Pre-School in Rochester, Kent, who is closing in on her Level 5 qualification.

“I felt like I needed a bit of a push, so I asked about it and Family First organised it for me,” she said. “I started in January 2023, when I was a deputy manager, and have really enjoyed it.

“For example, it has given me the skills to introduce a new curriculum that I am confident is brilliant for the children and will be suitable for Ofsted.

“It has also pushed me to be a mentor for others in the nursery. We have now got two other people doing their own Level 5 qualifications – a deputy manager and a room leader.

“I am a couple of phases ahead of them so can tell them what to expect and how to prepare. It is also teaching me leadership skills and techniques which can help me support other members of the team if they need help.

“Before we were taken over by Family First, I didn’t really know if I had it in me to be a manager, but this has given me a lot more confidence in myself.

“The workload has been manageable – there are a lot of tasks I can complete in my working hours and things like assignments I do in my own time. My tutor is incredibly supportive when I do need help.”

“I would absolutely recommend an apprenticeship for anyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are. It has given me a lot of confidence, especially when I am showing prospective parents around the nursery. I know that I am a strong leader and it helps me sell the nursery as a great place to be.”

Ann-Marie Martet, 45, maternity cover manager at Woodberry Day Nursery Fawley, in Hampshire, is also completing a Level 5.

She went from not knowing her apprenticeship existed to starting it within a matter of weeks and hasn’t looked back.

“Family First held a Deputy Managers Conference in August 2022 and there were representatives from Realise there who were promoting it,” she said.

“Quickly, I realised it was something I was interested in doing and thought it was something which could really help me along with my career. I’ve been in childcare for 26 years with most of those spent at Play Away Day Nurseries in Totton.

“I started off as a nursery nurse, then became team leader in the baby section and worked my way up to deputy manager and I was Third-in-Charge.

“Then in October last year I was informed about this position before starting early in 2024. What the apprenticeship has done is improved my self-confidence. It was definitely lacking before.”

“It has made me realise that I do have the skills, I know what I am doing and that I am good at my job. It hasn’t always been easy, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking to broaden their career.

“It helps build on your knowledge and gives you new opportunities which you wouldn’t necessarily think of. I have team members in our setting who are thinking about apprenticeships and I am definitely encouraging them as much as I can.”

Karen Derbyshire, operations director early years at Realise, said:

“In the two years we have been partnering with Family First, they have developed an offering for their employees from Level 2 through to Level 5, creating pathways for those that want to move into management and those that want to continue their work impacting outcomes for children.

“There really is something for anyone looking to upskill their knowledge and skills. Having a dedicated Early Years Specialist in Michele means apprentices get bespoke training to complement what we deliver at Realise, which enriches their experience, making them fantastic practitioners which is reflected in the number of learners that achieve a distinction grade in their endpoint assessment.
We are really proud to partner with Family First and support the next generation of practitioners, educator and managers.”

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