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Interview: Superdry CEO Euan Sutherland on why apprenticeships will become the norm

PUBLISHED: 13:29 26 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:34 03 April 2018

Euan Sutherland (c) Supergroup PLC 2015

Euan Sutherland (c) Supergroup PLC 2015

©Supergroup PLC 2015

Euan Sutherland, CEO of Superdry explains why businesses need to adapt to the apprenticeship model of working

With its HQ firmly entrenched in Cheltenham, it is only fitting that after the recent country-wide events supporting National Apprenticeship Week, we keep up the momentum, and focus on Superdry’s successful and popular Apprenticeship Scheme - run in partnership with Gloucestershire College.

Starting out as a market stall in Cheltenham thirty years ago, Superdry’s phenomenal brand growth is legendary –now selling its premium lifestyle clothing range to 189 countries with a turnover of £750million.

Euan Sutherland has been at the helm since 2014 and has a stellar retail career with senior roles at some of the nation’s best loved brands – Coca Cola, Mars, Boots and B&Q to name a few. His inspirational leadership continues to drive the brand forward.

Recognising the need to recruit, retain and nurture the careers of aspiring and talented young staff, Euan oversaw the launch of Superdry’s Apprenticeship Scheme in early 2016, in partnership with Gloucestershire College. Since then their apprenticeship provision has grown from strength to strength, placing Superdry at the forefront of apprenticeship opportunities in the region. The clothing giant now employs 34 apprentices at their Cheltenham HQ, with more learners set to join by summer.

Euan explains why he is such a passionate advocate of the apprenticeship programme “this is a sensible and practical route to bring in new talent to the company, enabling young people to climb on the career ladder early and gain fantastic commercial experience.”

"Life is changing faster than we’ve ever seen it before, we need to be progressive and adapt – and for Superdry, the apprenticeship model fits”

Superdry’s extensive apprenticeship programme covers all departments which support the retail giant – a structure, which Euan believes other companies could do well to capitalise on – rather than place apprenticeships just within their core function. “Our apprentices are mainly occupied in areas other than the shop floor - from accounting, to IT, HR, marketing and business support. We proactively encourage progression to the next Level and transferability of skills to expand their commercial experience, and support our continued business growth.”

As an influential business leader, Euan also recognises the importance in banishing misconceptions, to champion the profile of apprenticeships mapped to a contemporary working environment and not just the traditional association with construction and engineering. The CEO acknowledges attitudes still need to change across the country, to acknowledge just how valuable apprenticeships are to the future success of the whole UK economy. But at Superdry, they are already one-step ahead of the game.

“We don’t just acknowledge our apprentices within their own business departments - we deliberately raise their profile and proactively promote them as our flagship Apprenticeship group in their own right.”

“Our apprentices have bonded so well together, and feel respected, supported and moreover, confident in their recognised contribution to Superdry. They have developed far above and beyond their individual work remits.” Euan describes how the Apprenticeship group recently participated in the Prince’s Trust Million Makers event, securing a place in the regional finals and raising over £27,000 for charity. They also present at events to promote the Superdry apprenticeship journey to local schools, and at the monthly staff meeting “Super Tuesdays” – in front of 600 staff – which is no mean feat. He adds “There aren’t many undergraduates who get that opportunity. I’d go so far as to say our apprentice group have rightly earned themselves quite a celebrity status at Superdry HQ!”

“When I meet and talk with our apprentices at HQ, I see a level of maturity and confidence for their age that is far beyond that you would see from students coming directly out of a purely classroom based experience. Attitudes are definitely changing, and anyone thinking an apprenticeship is an easy option is very much mistaken. As an organisation, we need our staff to be hard working and productive, and that work ethic absolutely includes apprentices. We select candidates for our very sought after apprenticeship places on that potential.”

Euan acknowledges that intermediate level apprentices are a growing credible path to lead on to higher and degree apprenticeships - and he also recognises that full time university based degrees are not necessarily the right option for everyone – particularly with the increasing financial burden of most universities charging the maximum £9,250 fees per year. “There is clearly a financial advantage of not going to university which understandably appeals to a more commercially-savvy group of school leavers.” This generation not only see the benefit of gaining credible work experience - but want to earn whilst they work and learn, without being saddled by university-style debt.

Whilst our youth are increasingly switching on to the appeal of apprenticeships, Euan acknowledges that one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is changing the perception of parents, who are still key influencers. “Parents go back and rely on the career route they took – it’s what is familiar to them, and for many that was a purely academic route which may have led straight to a job or full time university. But our economy, technology and culture are changing far quicker than we have ever experienced. It’s a wider issue for government and society. Today’s apprenticeship model within businesses - earning whilst you work and train - adapts well to this fast pace of change.”

He goes on to add “A lot of job opportunities that will be open to my children just simply weren’t around in my day. Furthermore, in our ageing population, careers will last much longer - potentially enabling two or three careers in one lifetime - and here apprenticeship retraining at a higher level will come into its own.”

For a business-wide apprenticeship programme to work, Superdry recognise the value in working hand in hand with a quality local FE provider to help deliver training and support. “We have a dedicated account manager which works really well. We are confident that our apprentices are receiving quality local training to supplement their work at HQ through a supportive network of assessors, training co-ordinators and lecturers, and have access to the full suite of pastoral care that Gloucestershire College has to offer. The local and community link is really important for us, and the partnership with GC has been well organised, very practical and flexible to suit our business needs. ”

Since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in April 2017, it has been well documented that the number of apprenticeships nationally has fallen well short of government targets - with the ambitious goal of 3 million new apprentices by 2020. Despite this, Gloucestershire is bucking the national trend – with Gloucestershire College’s number of apprenticeship starts increasing by 32%, and the College currently working with over 1,000 local employers in apprenticeships programs. The College recently won the prestigious national Beacon award from the Association of Colleges for its Promotion and Delivery of Successful Apprenticeships, presented by Anne Milton, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills.

Yet companies across the nation are still confused and in some cases unaware of the true potential that can be unlocked with the new funding options available for apprenticeships. The Levy dictates that those companies with a wage bill over £3 million pay 0.5% of their salary pot to go towards funding their own apprenticeship programmes. Companies below the Levy payment threshold receive full government funding for apprenticeships aged 16 – 18, and pay only 10% for training for those aged 19 or over. Significant recent legislative Levy changes have also opened up the door for apprenticeship re-training and development for older and more experienced staff.

Superdry have seized the opportunity and as well as increasing their number of new apprenticeship starters at Levels 2 and 3 (equivalent to GCSEs and A Levels), they have enabled a number of their more experienced staff to pursue a Level 5 Leadership & Management programme with Gloucestershire College, which is the equivalent to a foundation degree to become certified managers.

Euan states “Companies not actively embracing the apprenticeship levy comes down to awareness of what is available and achievable. Apprenticeships are often thought of as entry level, and we know that is simply not just the case. Retraining, upskilling and developing your workforce goes hand in hand with commercial advantage.”

“I just don’t think enough companies have got their heads around the whole apprenticeship offering and benefits, and really thought about the wider concept. It takes time to structure your organisation around the apprenticeship model, and you need to be confident in working with a quality local FE College to partner with and help support you – but it is time so well invested to ensure long term sustainable development. At Superdry we believe in spearheading this change - after all our employees are our future leaders.”

He concludes “I don’t see any other way but for apprenticeships to become the absolute norm for both entry level and retraining, and to develop our workforce as a country. I don’t think that economically and commercially there is another way to go forward. Life is changing faster than we’ve ever seen it before, we need to be progressive and adapt – and for Superdry, the apprenticeship model fits.”

Visit the Gloucestershire College website here.

To find out more about working at Superdry visit www.careers.superdry.com and for their apprenticeship scheme at: careers.superdry.com/head-office/superdry-apprenticeships.

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