To mark Apprenticeship Week 2021, Peter Perry, CEO at Dŵr Cymru, discusses his journey from apprentice to CEO at one of Wales’ largest organisations and why he believes apprenticeships are a genius decision for future workers and businesses alike.
Talk to us about how you started your career at Dŵr Cymru. What attracted you to the company and what was your first role?
I was first introduced to the organisation by a careers advisor, who recommended an apprenticeship as a worthwhile pathway for me to get into work once I left school. My family circumstances meant that university wasn’t an option for me, but as soon as I heard about the apprenticeship at Dŵr Cymru I was hooked.
The blend of theoretical engineering and practical application gave me the opportunity to dive into the world of work, whilst still being supported through classroom learning. The mixture of office and field-based experience meant the role was varied and interesting. No single day was the same during my apprenticeship and I thrived in that dynamic environment – I could be designing a pipeline with colleagues in the office one day and heading out to a customer to find and fix a leak the next.
How do you think your apprenticeship has helped you in your career – both when starting and moving up the career ladder?
Despite my initial excitement, it wasn’t until further down the line in my career that I realised what a key decision becoming an apprentice had been for me. An apprenticeship is about understanding how a business works across multiple disciplines, giving you a unique insight into the detail of an organisation and really getting under its skin. Having the ability to experience the grassroots of the business has been incredibly helpful, particularly as I’ve progressed through my career. The fact that I’ve seen and done it, at all levels, means I have an empathy and deep understanding of the business that I draw upon daily to make informed decisions as CEO.
Do you think perceptions and attitudes towards apprenticeships have changed since you started as an apprentice?
Apprenticeships have really been brought into the modern world of work in the last 20 years and are very much fit-for-purpose for the jobs that are here and now. At Dŵr Cymru, we have a diverse range of apprenticeships available across different fields and skill sets, with many of our front-line and customer-facing roles being delivered or developed through apprenticeships. We recruit around 30 apprentices each year in roles that vary from Customer Advisers to Maintenance Technicians. The notion that apprenticeships are manual jobs is completely outdated. While there will always be a need for these types of roles, our Apprenticeship Programme spans across all areas of the business and is a viable route into a plethora of different careers and specialisms.
We’re also seeing greater diversity in our apprentices, which is vital in creating a more inclusive culture that ultimately leads to better performance and success. Gone are the days where our apprentice cohort is made up of burly men working in manual jobs. Those old, tired stereotypes just aren’t the reality anymore. We have far more female apprentices and colleagues working in front-line, operational roles – and we want to see even more of them in the months and years ahead.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to leaving school or changing careers, so outdated views about the opportunities that an apprenticeship can offer – particularly compared to other pathways into work – are unhelpful. Apprenticeships offer people the chance to grow their career from day one through on-the-job experience and a competitive wage. At Dŵr Cymru, apprentices are given the opportunity to get involved in the wider business, meeting and learning from experienced colleagues to build a holistic overview of the organisation. There is also a real team ethos amongst our apprentices as they support each other through shared experiences, challenges and opportunities.
What’s your advice to someone who is thinking of doing an apprenticeship? Or a parent whose child might be thinking about becoming an apprentice?
It’s important for parents to know that I have high hopes for all our apprentices and strongly believe they will go onto have great careers with us. Nearly all of our apprentices will remain at the company and be offered a permanent role. An apprenticeship is a great route for anyone looking to get ahead in their career or perhaps looking to try something new, while earning a living and learning from industry professionals. We’ve seen apprentices join the company straight after their GCSEs in technical roles who’ve gone on to achieve a Higher Degree Apprenticeship, which wouldn’t have been achievable for them through the traditional academic pathway. Equally, we’ve recruited older apprentices who wanted a career change and are now thriving in an industry and job they love.
My advice to prospective applicants and future apprentices is a relatively simple one – you can start and progress your career through an apprenticeship. Don’t be limited by your own experience or a lack of confidence. If you have the drive and passion to succeed then you can, regardless of your age, ethnicity or background. Throw yourself into it and grab every opportunity that is presented to you. We promote a culture where staff are not afraid to have their say, whether they’re a first-year apprentice or sit on the board committee, so my advice would be speak up, make sure your voice is heard.
Would you recommend apprenticeships to other CEOs or SME business owners?
I would absolutely recommend apprenticeships to businesses of all sizes and sectors. The most progressive businesses won’t need convincing – we all need new blood and succession to replace the existing workforce and apprenticeships offer exactly that. Of course, other routes are also valuable. The key to building a balanced and high-performance team is to ensure there is a blend of people who have come from different pathways and backgrounds. I strongly believe that success is best achieved through diversity, ensuring there are different perspectives within our organisation which reflect the communities we serve, allowing us to provide a better service.
In my experience apprentices have a real drive to do a great job for their company – they see a clear opportunity to forge a career and seize it, with both hands. On average, this makes apprentices our most effective long-term investments when it comes to employees due to their loyalty and increased staff retention rates. It’s not uncommon to see an apprentice developing and progressing at the business for many, many years. The entry-level knowledge and core skills they learn stay with them as they progress through the ranks and they develop a deep understanding and real grasp of how the organisation works and how it can be improved.
The Apprenticeship Programme in Wales is funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund.
For more information about becoming an apprentice visit: gov.wales/apprenticeshipswales
For more information about hiring an apprentice visit:
Visit Prentisiaethau Cymru / Apprenticeships Cymru on Facebook or @ApprenticeWales on Twitter and follow the story using the hashtag #AWWales.