Umbrella Training's Adele Oxberry on forging the apprentice pathway

03 March 2023 by
Umbrella Training's Adele Oxberry on forging the apprentice pathway

Adele Oxberry, chief executive and founder of Umbrella Training talks to Lisa Jenkins about the 10-year anniversary of her business and the changes in the apprenticeship landscape along the way

Can you tell us how you first got into being an apprenticeship provider, and what drove you to set up Umbrella Training 10 years ago?

In 2011 the government decided to look at reforming the entire apprenticeship landscape. Luckily, I was included in the initial conversations while working for another provider. The proposed approach was exactly how I felt apprenticeships should be: built, designed and supported by employers. I launched Umbrella in November 2012. My vision was to create a forward-thinking provider that would work in partnership with employers to create new, meaningful apprenticeship pathways for the next generation of hospitality professionals.

What is an apprenticeship in a nutshell?

An apprenticeship is a job with hands-on experience and a salary that allows you to learn a profession on a ‘novice to expert' journey. Apprenticeships start at Level 2 and go all the way to degree level.

How do you measure meaningful impact in the hospitality industry when placing your apprenticeships with employers?

The retention of an apprentice is key to a successful programme. This is mainly driven by a positive workplace culture and evident career paths. The destinations of our apprentices are important to us and we need them to be able to see how far they've come when reviewing their starting point.

We've got many great examples of apprentices becoming senior leaders who have so much belief in the system that they have introduced it within their new businesses. Our alumni apprentices in turn become mentors, amplifying our messaging about how wonderful the sector is to work in and what opportunities it can provide.

How many apprentices have you placed and in what job functions and sectors?

I have worked in apprenticeships for just shy of 25 years, so I've probably worked directly and indirectly with about 35,000 apprentices across three organisations. Umbrella has supported more than 4,500 apprentices since its inception. As for job functions, anything related to hospitality, from a kitchen porter to managers and heads of departments. At Umbrella, our largest provision is at Level 3 – supervisory and Level 4 – management. Historically, our culinary provision has been deliberately kept small with a few select employer groups who offer the ‘full package' for the next generation of chefs. This is about to change in 2023 due to demand, new technology, new premises and funding.

What additional training do you offer?

In response to our recent sector research, we have developed short courses, including modules on empathetic leadership, effective mentoring, managing difficult customers, handling tricky situations, and receiving and managing feedback. For our culinary and management programmes we offer competition support and opportunities to attend external events within our curriculum. We have also developed additional sessions to replace our Apprenticeship Clubs and masterclasses. These revised approaches are built directly into the programme so all apprentices can attend employer and supplier masterclasses, work with charities like the Felix Project, and visit other employers within the sector.

You have developed the business in many ways over the past 10 years – could you tell us about the initiatives you have set up?

We are working in collaboration with the Department for Education on occupational traineeships, while encouraging employers to consider Level 2 apprentices rather than focusing on spending levy accounts on degree apprenticeships. We have also invested heavily into metaverse learning, developing educational scenarios with sophisticated technology not seen before in hospitality. Our recent nationwide survey put hospitality at the bottom of the pile of careers that young people are considering. It was no surprise that gaming and technology were at the top, so let's bring hospitality to them in a language they speak.

We are working with so many stakeholders such as the Forward Trust on the only prisoner apprenticeship pathway currently in place, and our new executive programmes are about to be launched, such as Women in Leadership and Being an ‘Empath'. Our coaches range from ex-military professionals to HR execs.

How has the apprenticeship sector changed over the last 10 years?

It's completely different from how the levy was introduced as a new tax for some employers with large payrolls, and the new qualifications that were introduced in 2017. What was initially a complex system, especially for smaller employers, has become more accessible. Access for all employers is now available after the government removed the procurement requirement for SMEs, and we have created open cohorts to ensure small businesses can also engage with apprenticeships. Operators need to really embrace apprenticeships, not just to spend their levy or to fill gaps, but to offer genuinely nurturing programmes that retain people with a view to a long-term career.

Which partners and employers would you like to give a shout out to for their support over the past 10 years?

Liz McGivern, vice-president of people and culture at Red Carnation Hotels, gave me a book called Who Moved my Cheese? I was uncertain of my next step before I incorporated Umbrella. It was a 45-minute read on a commute home and, by the time I arrived, I was ready to make the change. Liz is a loyal and firm supporter of women in business and of Umbrella.

Sally Beck, general manager of the Royal Lancaster London hotel, took the chance on a new business and gave us our first apprentices. And our clients: over the past 10 years, and despite a global pandemic, the vast majority have stayed loyal and committed to offering robust apprenticeship programmes with Umbrella as their provider.

So many amazing people have been a part of our business over the years. Those that left Umbrella have created extra magic in their new roles and I am so proud Umbrella gave them the skills and confidence to grow in their careers. Our present team is a community of passionate people who genuinely care about their apprentices and our business partners. They're incredible humans all making positive changes for our apprentices. And lastly, my family: three rock-solid humans who challenge me daily and love me unconditionally.

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