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How Bauer Media is raising the apprenticeship standard

After struggling to find job candidates with the right skills, Bauer took matters into its own hands

The company

Bauer Media Group is a German-headquartered media company that manages more than 600 magazines and 50 radio and TV stations around the world. In the UK this includes household names such as music magazines Q and Kerrang!, lifestyle publications such as Heat and Grazia, and radio stations Magic, Kiss and Absolute Radio. The firm estimates it reaches more than 25 million UK consumers through its portfolio.

The problem

Bauer’s story starts in a place many will empathise with: a lack of suitable skills in the job market. Sarah Barnes, HR director at Bauer Media, tells HR magazine that media companies were struggling to make the old apprenticeship standards work for them. “Of all the standards there are – and there are hundreds – there was nothing really that fitted into our sector,” she says.

“There are degree programmes out there, but they aren’t giving people that hands-on experience they need,” adds Paul Sylvester, content director of Absolute Radio. “We wanted to create something bespoke, tailored to encourage the skills we require.” Bauer took the issue into its own hands, and in 2014 its new Academy opened to the first intake of graduates.

Director of the Bauer Academy Courtnay McLeod explains that she used her previous experiences of working in higher education when developing the courses. “My background is in education, and I spent a lot of time thinking about how education is changing,” she says. “This neatly dovetailed with the conversations Bauer was having about how best to support its people while they were learning, and how to create new entry points into the industry.”

Before long other firms started to take notice of what Bauer was doing. “Right from the start I had the aim of opening the Academy up to external clients,” says McLeod. “It wasn’t at the top of my priorities at the very beginning, but I knew it was something we wanted to do eventually.”

Potential clients started getting in touch, intrigued by Bauer’s methods and wondering if they could use the media company’s expertise in their own training.

The method

“Other firms began to approach us because they realised they needed to start acting more like media companies,” McLeod explains. “They knew they wanted those communication skills and the digital skills that we sometimes take for granted.”

At first clients were approaching Bauer on an ad hoc basis, enquiring if it could assist them with specific skills requirements. “It was anyone, from charities up to FTSE companies,” McLeod says. “They were from a range of different industries. However, they all knew that businesses are becoming more digital and creative, and wanted our help to improve in those areas.”

In August 2016 the Skills Funding Agency publicly listed Bauer Radio as a government-registered training provider, meaning it could tender for significant funding opportunities related to the delivery of education and training. The Academy was now ready to open its doors to the outside world.

The Academy team is made up of 10 teachers, supported by around 20 employees from across the Bauer portfolio that deliver workshops based on their specialisms. A further 12 external trainers lend their skills to ensure training covers a spectrum of firms.

When Bauer first takes on a new client it works closely with the client’s HR team to establish exactly what skills they need, and develop a bespoke training method that fulfils their requirements. Bauer itself follows a similar process, explains McLeod. “We take a lot of guidance from Sarah and her team when we are creating our training programmes for Bauer,” she says. “It’s the same process I’d be doing with any of our clients. It’s about really trying to understand what they hope to get out of the training and what challenges they are currently facing. If we didn’t listen to HR then we’d end up introducing something that doesn’t work for the business.”

Barnes agrees. “I have been a critical stakeholder in this whole process,” she says. “I’ve tried to encourage Courtnay to think about this in terms of a learning programme, not just an apprenticeship scheme.”

One of the key principles Bauer always adheres to when taking on a new client is that the training provided must meet Bauer’s criteria. “It can feel strange saying ‘no’ to a client,” McLeod says. “But we’re always adamant that we won’t just come in, do a PowerPoint presentation about social media, for example, and then leave. We want to take their people on a learning journey.”

The result

Bauer Academy now has around 70 corporate clients. And this could increase significantly after the introduction of the apprenticeship levy back in April. Employers with a pay bill of more than £3 million each year must pay the levy. This money can then be used to fund apprenticeship training and assessment for apprentices that work at least 50% of the time in England. As the Bauer Academy has been government-approved and is now a recognised accreditation centre employers can choose to spend their levy money on its courses.

“The government has recognised that the focus should be on coaching people to develop knowledge, skills and attributes required for their role, so there is more flexibility for training providers and employers,” says Barnes. “This goes back to what we believe about the value of giving people skills they can practically apply, versus what the education system churns out.”

While Bauer benefits financially from the Academy its commitment to learning and development goes beyond generating profit. “A lot of our work is corporate, and firms want to spend their money with us strategically,” McLeod says. “However, we also run a number of events for charities and small to medium enterprises, such as networking events, which we don’t generate revenue from. That’s part of our commitment to the communities we serve to always do the right thing.”

The apprenticeship programmes Bauer offers vary from 12 to 18 months, covering a range of education levels. Degree-level pathways can last three years. “About 20% of the time our learners will be training off the job,” Barnes explains. “That might be workshops, mentoring, or other types of learning.”

McLeod says the benefit of this is that the other 80% of the time the learner is working. “They are able to apply the skills they are picking up quickly,” she says. “As they learn they can embed it in their daily practice, and understand the practical applications of the theory. The confidence they gain from this is great!”

Barnes adds that employees who deliver training and mentor learners also benefit. “They feel they are ‘giving back’ and we have also found it makes them reflective of their own work, which in turn improves their performance,” she says. “They tell us they learn from the students because they have ideas that might not have come up otherwise. In addition, there is the added personal development benefit – they are effectively training people so are able to learn a different skill from their day jobs.”

Despite the new intake of clients using the Academy, Bauer has taken steps to ensure its own people are not lost in the shuffle. “We certainly won’t be neglecting our internal learners,” Barnes says. “We will continue to invest outside of the levy, and we have a significant development budget. We are hoping the apprenticeship standard increases over time, and this is just the first step on our journey.”