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Mainstay's Purchase Ledger Manager, Helen Alexander, discusses her passion for training and supporting apprentices to help them build a fulfilling career in the fast-moving world of property management.


How do you recruit your apprentices?

I usually directly approach Heart of Worcestershire College (HoW College). I'm fortunate that I have a great relationship with the College and it's simply a case of having a chat with them to identify potential candidates and asking the College to put them forward to us.

While this is my 'usual' recruiting route, I am still always on the lookout for great talent! With my last apprentice recruit I got chatting to a young man who explained that he wanted to be an accountant. I asked him what route he was taking, and he said that he had been led to believe university was the only option. I explained that another route was apprenticeships! His parents asked for more information, and he eventually joined us just a few months ago after I introduced him to HoW College.


What are the benefits of hiring an apprentice?

Training someone up from ground level is so rewarding. As a line manager, hiring someone straight out of a school 'learning environment' with a real drive to learn even more, gives me a fantastic opportunity to lead and watch them grow in experience and confidence. The apprentices will be working in the knowledge that at the end of this training period, they will have a qualification that is tremendously valuable, to them individually and to you as an employer. It also helps that all my apprentices take their turn alongside my wider team in the Friday morning 'bacon butty' run!


Have you seen any success stories?

Yes, many. One of my apprentices also joined us when he was only 16 and has done amazingly well in the five years he has been with us. He's already completed his AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) Levels 2 and 3 and is now my utility controller and has a team reporting to him. It's a challenging role, but with his training and coaching, he now confidently and expertly runs meetings with utility providers. He has worked so hard - and I'm so proud of him.


How important is training for the overall business - and your apprentices?

It's hugely important and absolute proof that it works as my apprentice retention is 100%. Sometimes it can be difficult with time and resource challenges, but I make sure I keep my apprentices close to the wider team, so they really know their role and feel confident before they begin sitting with other teams. 

I'm fortunate that my team doesn't mind training apprentices as it helps to not only increase their own confidence, but they also recognise that in the longer term, they will be freed up to concentrate on their more advanced tasks. I use a training matrix model, which helps me to monitor how my team are performing and identify their strengths and weaknesses.


What training have you completed?

I've completed ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) Levels 3 and 4. While Level 3 was focused on actual leadership and management, Level 4 was learning more about motivation, stress and conflict resolution. I've found this so useful to help me keep my team motivated and less stressed during the current climate.

At Mainstay, we have also used the Insights Colour Profile model, which identifies key personality traits and associated behaviours to enable you to really understand people and how they respond to you, so you can consider your management and leadership style accordingly. I find these insights help me get the very best out of my team.

I also visit schools to help coach students on interview techniques and increase their confidence so they can present themselves in the best possible light. I actually took my apprentice YYY on one visit and we both guided the students on their interviews, their posture, the way to dress, and also made sure they have three credible strengths they can offer to a recruiter. Many people say they are trustworthy or reliable, which we all should be, but stating you are passionate and committed can make you stand out and increase your chances of being hired.


What advice can you offer to any recruiters?

I love to see people wanting to better themselves and so I think it is important not to judge anyone on the current position they are in. We all have to start somewhere and if you can recognise their potential, this can pay fantastic dividends in the longer for your team and the wider business.