Got any plans for the weekend?
Yes. On Saturday i’m hosting my 50th birthday party. I had to buy a dress the other week because a friend told me that I cannot have my 50th in jeans, which is frankly what I wear most of the time. They say it’s a big deal. 50 is the new 40.
And 40 is the new 30. So, really, you’re only turning 30.
I’ll take that!
Where are you from?
I’m from Congleton in Cheshire – Cheshire girl. I lived there until I was 18 years old and then moved away to become a student.
Ever wanted to go back to Congleton?
No, I didn’t want to go back. But more importantly, I never needed to. You know, when I finished university, I applied for two jobs and got both of them. I ended up choosing a graduate training scheme at the Swallow Hotel St. George in Harrogate. I got a flat, went straight to my bank manager, got a car. Car insurance was nothing in those days. It’s much more difficult now. I see my sons trying to make a living. It’s so much more difficult.
How long did you work in Harrogate for?
Only 6 months. That was my graduate training, following my two-year qualification, an HND, at Leeds Polytechnic. During those two years, we did six-month placements at hotels. My placement was in Scotland in a beautiful country house hotel called Greywalls. We hosted the British Open that year. It was fabulous. We had lots of famous golfers staying with us and I got a private golf lesson from Greg Norman on the 10th tee, which was just outside the hotel. Greywalls was also where I learned to cook properly. I spent a lot of time in the kitchens. It was real high-end food that we did there so I learned a huge amount.
What happened next?
After my time at the Swallow Hotel, I was asked to go on secondment with Vaux, a brewery in Sunderland, to run the government training schemes for Youth and Employment training – basically taking people who were unemployed, putting them in our pubs, training them up and potentially getting managers out of it. I was incredibly lucky because I was 20 years old and I got, all of a sudden, a 9-5 job, a company car, a good salary. I did 2 years at their sister brewery, Wards, in Sheffield before moving to Sunderland. And that was my gateway to training. I’ve never left. I got my IQA qualification at Vaux in 1994.
What was it about training that made you want to leave hospitality?
Hospitality is notorious for unsociable hours and not particularly great pay. You do 50, 60 hours a week for a very basic wage. But it wasn’t just about that. As you’ve probably guessed already, I like to talk. (Laughs.) I like getting up in front of a group of people and showing what a job entails. I even got a training licence for a program called Train the Trainer and ran the programme for Vaux. When I left Vaux, I was pregnant with my boys but I continued to run training courses for Vaux and Swallow Hotels as a self-employed training consultant. I did a lot of work with hospitality organisations all around the country. So, for example, if a pub was refurbished, they would come to me to train their staff. It gave me the flexibility to be with the kids but also to escape and feel like Lucy Hall, Training Consultant, not necessarily Lucy Hall, Mother of Twins. When I went on maternity leave and we moved to Manchester, Vaux came to me and said, “Look we still want you to run the course. Do you want to do it on a consultant basis?” From that, I got more work with other organisations, not just Vaux.
So it was predominantly hospitality training that you did for the duration of your career?
Yes, and some management.
Did you ever want to branch out into any other sectors?
That did cross my mind when I left Vaux. I could have gone into retail training…But no, not any other kind of training. Certainly not personal training. (Laughs.)
Do you miss Sunderland?
No, not really. I liked living in Sheffield the most. I’d quite happily live in Sheffield. I like the city, the people. I lived in a trendy, student-y area. I’ve still got mates there.
Say you could live anywhere in the UK. Where would you go?
The Lakes, probably. I love the Lake District. There are parts of it that absolutely take your breath away. I did site visits up there sometimes. I’d be surrounded by all this beautiful scenery and I’d think, “My God, I’m being paid to do this.”
Tell me about your time at Babcock.
I was really lucky. I was on maternity leave with a company when I had my daughter but they folded. Shortly after, an EV I’d been working with recommended me to HCTC, which became part of Babcock. My interview was really informal. It was at a motorway service station on the M6! I was an IQA for the whole time I was at Babcock. I was working three days a week, looking after a team of assessors, implementing new standards, guiding them through their work, the usual thing. I always worked from home and that was easy when e-portfolios were introduced – I could do everything on my laptop. I didn’t have assessors rocking up at my door with big IKEA bags full of portfolios for me to sample. I’d been an IV for some of those assessors for 13 years. They became and remain good friends of mine. They’re actually all coming to my birthday party! It’ll be madness! (Laughs.)
What was your favourite part of the job?
I like to have a bit of fun. Icebreakers were big for me. I also liked doing tastings. Once, I did an ALDI brand vs. name brand taste test. It was a daft thing to do. Everyone came in and there would be rice pudding, ketchup, Weetabix, cola. They’d have a taste and everyone had to ask themselves which they preferred. It was about testing their palettes and their brand awareness. And that’s what I like about training. It’s not all about going up in front of a room and committing Death by Powerpoint. It’s about engaging people.
You’re the new EPA Coordinator at TQUK. You’re dealing with a lot of training providers and apprentices and the implementation of End-Point Assessment. Just from your experience at Babcock and having your finger on the pulse of training in the UK, I wanted to get your view on the reforms that were introduced, including the induction of the Apprenticeship Levy, the 20% Off-the-Job Training, etc.
In a way, you could say I’m here because of those reforms. The thing about it is, under the old system, lots of SMEs could get their people trained up for free. Now [because of the co-investment rule] they have an up-front payment of £400 or £900 to train up their Commis Chef or Business Administrator or whatever else. So many are writing the Levy off as another staff tax rather than thinking of a way to use it. They don’t want to deal with the upfront payments and bureaucracy. I think the government will have to do something about it at some point. My understanding is some of the big boys haven’t actually spent their Levy money yet.
I’ve heard some people say that if an employer can’t co-fund 10% of an apprentice’s training then they’re probably not in the best position financially to offer the apprentice a future in their business. Do you agree with that?
No, I don’t. It depends on why they want that apprentice there. Do they want that apprentice to help build the business? We need to get to a stage where employers are saying to themselves, “OK, I’ve got a one-off £900 payment here, but I can get this apprentice in at £3.70 an hour and I’ll have someone training them, and that’s much better for me than paying someone £5.90 or £7.38 an hour who doesn’t know what they’re doing.” It’s about changing attitudes.
The apprentice assessment process with EPA is a lot more formalised and rigorous. Is that a good thing for the apprentice?
It’s a very good thing for the apprentice, yes, because they’re more likely to get better quality training and get a qualification that may be more highly regarded. There’s also less opportunity to wing it through continuous assessment.
Since you’ve started, you’ve brought a lot of cake to the office. Can we look forward to this being a regular occurrence?
Oh, yes, I’m a feeder. Last week, I made the cake as a gesture because everyone was so welcoming. Interestingly enough, my daughter told me that since I started with TQUK I’ve been a lot more chilled than I was at the old job. She said I don’t always have my laptop out to check on things, so when I come home, it’s about us spending time together. Then she asked if she could make a cake for the office – a royal wedding celebration cake!
Thanks for your time!