Can apprenticeships boost your business? Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has just announced new funding and a shake-up of technical qualifications to plug the country’s skills gap, and create clear routes into work. John Baumback runs employment and skills organisation Seetec, which he joined as a 16-year-old apprentice, and is a passionate advocate of investing in the vocational route.

John Baumback was 11-years-old when he spent all his savings on buying his first computer. Showing an aptitude for maths at his Essex comprehensive school, he dreamed of becoming a computer programmer.
By 16, and with five ‘O’ Levels to his name, he was disillusioned with school and, with his family struggling to make ends meet, he signed up for an apprenticeship, earning just £26.25 a week.

His friends thought he was mad. “Traineeships were really looked down on,” John recalls, “They were seen as stacking shelves in a supermarket, and only for those who couldn’t get into university or find a proper job.”
But the opportunity advertised with Seetec, a young company with just six employees based close to his Canvey Island home, offered training in Cobol computer programming for business use.

John jumped at the chance and, nine months after being appointed, he successfully applied for a permanent job as an admin assistant, becoming the company’s seventh employee.

Since then Seetec has expanded throughout the UK and Ireland, employs 1,250 staff and has a turnover of £85 million a year. Its head office is still in Hockley, Essex, where John, now 48, started his traineeship in 1984.

He explained: “After about a year, I became an assistant trainer on the Cobol programming course. I taught my first adult group at the age of 18. It was quite terrifying as I was a massive introvert. But I look back and I’m really proud of that time. I developed a love for the work, and I was interviewing and taking on people like me.”

He trained hundreds of young people and adults. As the company grew, his success continued. As successive Governments promoted new schemes in the welfare to work arena Seetec continued to adapt, expanding out of Essex to become a nationwide provider of skills, employment, welfare and public services.

Seetec continued to take on significant numbers of apprentices, many of them building their careers within the company, including the current Group Infrastructure and Corporate Services Director and one of Seetec’s technical consultants, who was in the first adult group John taught in 1986.

John explained: “I wouldn’t be where I am now if I wasn’t given the opportunity and believed in. There are plenty of young people out there that, given the chance, will be tomorrow’s leaders.

“When you take on an apprentice, you mould them to the culture and ethos of your organisation. It’s their first engagement with working life, and you can see the advancement they’re getting, and watch them growing in front of your eyes.”

Seetec grew rapidly, winning a number of major contracts to provide employment and skills training services, and John was promoted via IT Director to Infrastructure Director.

The company’s success in bidding to run rehabilitation services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex meant the opening of a new Justice Division, and John became its Managing Director. “For me, it defined what is important, and made me think about society and the way we treat individuals,” he explained.

“Nobody wants to give anyone a second chance. We work with people whose circumstances are often unimaginable and it’s not for us to judge them. I have a real passion for supporting individuals who often are the hardest to help in society.”

Last year John’s journey through the ranks was complete when he became Seetec Group Managing Director.

He is committed to making Seetec the highest quality skills provider in the UK, and creating more opportunities for young people. Seetec currently recruits up to 150 apprentices a month across the UK for organisations it works alongside but, with the Government’s introduction of the new Apprenticeship Levy, John’s goal is to grow this to between 500 and 1,000 a month.

He explained: “Young people make such a difference to the outlook of your business – they understand far better how to relate and engage with younger audiences, and they have the enthusiasm and new ideas.”

His belief in the value of apprenticeships is deeply ingrained. Elder son Jack, 20, has followed the same path and, after an apprenticeship with a major local online games retailer, stayed on in a full-time position.

John says the Chancellor’s Budget commitment is vital in raising the profile and status of the technical skills pathway. “I welcome the Government’s investment in vocational education and stronger links through the new T Levels to employers and high-quality work experience. 

“I think people are warming to apprenticeships, especially with the introduction of degree apprenticeships, and student loans to pursue advanced technical qualifications, but there is still a stigma. It’s not just about educating employers, it’s about changing parents’ perceptions as well. In this country we don’t appreciate that translating concepts to tools or products is a real talent.”

John says Seetec’s goal is to continually find new ways of providing opportunities for people to develop and use their talents, whatever their circumstances. “I am determined to bring in the best people in the skills industry, to build on our 30 years’ experience. We are making great strides in the digital, management, engineering and justice sectors, and we understand the needs and challenges. 

“We have the expertise available to help businesses to invest in this talent. Some employers view taking on young people as a risk,” John said, “but if you show belief and commitment it isn’t at all – plus, if you don’t like risk, don’t run a business!”

John Baumback, Group Managing Director, Seetec