Importance of Apprenticeship for Continual Improvement

Dave Ramsay, Continuous Improvement Manager for wilko hardware stores, has been on a quality apprenticeship journey, achieving his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Training for this achievement was provided by Capella Associates, winner of the CQI’s Quality Organisation of the Year at the 2020 International Quality Awards. Now a coach and mentor to others embarking on their improvement apprenticeship training, Dave outlines the value of his continuous professional development on his career progression.

What is your background and how did you come to join wilko?

I went to Buckinghamshire New University and studied BA (Hons) Leisure Management with Marketing. I applied to work for wilko with the view that it would be a maximum 12-month stay. I joined in April 2007 and, 15 years later, I am still here.

How have your improvement apprenticeships helped you in your career and what is the next step in your CPD?

The apprenticeship was the key driver to me even starting my improvement journey and was the single most important factor for me moving into my current role. Undertaking the Level 5 programme has helped me to develop further in terms of coaching and mentoring, and also for leading more complex improvement activities across various business areas. The next step in my professional development has started over the past 12 months by working across project management and business-change activities to broaden my skill set and widen my thinking when approaching any improvement activity.

How would you seek to encourage others to embark on a similar improvement apprenticeship?

The biggest factor for me was that the apprenticeship is not just a case of learning the theory behind continuous improvement; you actually work through a business improvement activity that delivers a tangible benefit. The opportunity to make a difference to the company, that could potentially positively impact multiple business areas is a real honour.

A lot of the time, people feel they can only control what they own, but the benefit of leading an improvement activity is bringing multiple stakeholders together to work collaboratively with the aim of achieving the right outcome, utilising data and removing any element of bias. That is something I would encourage all team members to embrace.

Why, and at what stage of your career, did you first decide to embark on the improvement journey?

I moved to our support centre on secondment in January 2018, working within our central retail team, and was given the opportunity to enrol on the Level 3 Improvement Technician programme to become a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt. Eight months after starting my apprenticeship, I moved into my current role of Continuous Improvement Manager and the rest, as they say, is history.

I completed my Level 3 programme in May 2019 and enrolled on the Level 5 Improvement Specialist programme in June 2019. I achieved a distinction in both of my apprenticeships and received a Letter of Commendation for Outstanding Achievement from Capella Associates for my achievements on the Level 5 programme.

How was the training delivered and what work was involved?

The Level 3 programme was delivered to a cohort of Wilko delegates in classroom-style training sessions by a trainer from Capella. Additional one-to-one coaching sessions were also planned in throughout the programme.

The programme required you to work through and evidence a real business improvement activity and the work was to be completed within your working hours. Apprentices have to evidence their time spent working on apprenticeship-related work/activities and this has to equate to 20% by the end of the programme. The learning really added huge value to my role and, ultimately, it became my day job when I successfully interviewed for the Continuous Improvement Manager role.

The Level 5 Programme started as a mixed cohort with delegates from various businesses and sectors, with the training carried out in-person at Toyota, who are best in class for a continuous improvement culture. As Covid-19 hit and lockdown kicked in, training was moved seamlessly to a virtual format by Capella. The difference with the Level 5 programme is that to evidence against the criteria, delegates have to create a portfolio of evidence and complete a practical exam on statistical analysis.

What was the end goal in completing your training?

At the end of the Level 3 Improvement Technician programme, I achieved a distinction, which is the highest grade possible. The training that Capella provides also means that, as well as the apprenticeship certification, you achieve a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt qualification.

For the Level 5 Improvement Specialist programme, I achieved another distinction and was one of two delegates to be presented with a Letter of Commendation for Outstanding Achievement from Capella. I also achieved a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt qualification.

One of the biggest benefits from the Level 5 programme was developing our internal coaching offering, supporting Level 3, 4 and 5 delegates going through their own improvement journey.

You are now a coach and mentor – how did this come about and what does it entail?

When the improvement apprenticeships were first introduced at wilko, the desire for the Continuous Improvement team was to support delegates throughout their apprenticeships with coaching and mentoring. The first wave of programmes included the CI Managers, so we acted as delegates as well as coaches. As we each progressed through to the Level 5 programme, a key element of the programme was to provide coaching to Level 4 Improvement Practitioner level team members, which also included the creation and delivery of a training session.

Throughout the Level 5 programme, the standard of coaching and mentoring has continued to develop and improve, which has been evident in a number of the results from recent team members completing their own apprenticeships.

Being able to pass on your own experiences, your own knowledge, and also support team members to develop their own understanding is incredibly rewarding. Not only do they complete a business improvement activity that delivers a tangible benefit, but they are investing in their own development and building their capability to continue supporting the business strategy.

Attribute to original publisher/ publishing organization: Dave Ramsay, Continuous Improvement Manager, https://www.quality.org/knowledge/quality-apprenticeship-delivering-real-benefits