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pro landscaper magazine

In conversation with Matt O’Conner

by | 10 Feb 23 | Features, News

John O’Conner has offered apprenticeships since 2011. The grounds maintenance company has utilised them not only to develop skills within the business and attract new talent, but also to help train managers already at the company.

Matt O’Conner – managing director at John O’Conner

As with most good things, the apprenticeships have adapted over time. Speaking to Pro Landscaper, managing director Matt O’Conner said the company’s scheme “looks quite different today” compared with 2011, having initially focused on horticulture apprenticeships. Twelve years on, John O’Conner now has HR, digital and business management apprentices.

“One of the hidden benefits of apprenticeships is the motivation it gives to more experienced employees,” said O’Conner. “They really got a buzz from sharing their knowledge and skills and helping the younger staff come through. That’s been really great to see.”

A further “hidden benefit” — as O’Conner puts it — is that clients are pleased to witness investment and commitment to the next generation. “As an industry, we’re a bit of an ageing workforce, so investing in skills and training has been good for business.”

John O’Conner currently has 16 apprentices and is recruiting five more. It sits in the financial bracket which requires them to pay the Apprenticeship Levy.

“Now that we are a levy-paying employer, we do want to spend that levy,” said O’Conner. “Where we might have just done a traditional supervisors or management training course, we now have a look at who’s offering management training via the apprenticeship framework.”

The Apprenticeship Levy is an amount paid at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s annual pay bill. As an employer, you have to pay Apprenticeship Levy each month if you have an annual pay bill of more than £3 million, or are connected to any companies or charities for Employment Allowance purposes and have a combined annual pay bill of more than £3 million. As part of the government scheme, companies paying the Apprenticeship Levy receive funds to spend on training and assessing their apprentices.

In addition to his role as managing director, O’Conner is also chair of the East of England National Apprenticeship Ambassador Network — a scheme hosted by the Department of Education.

O’Conner said: “It’s all about inspiring employers and individuals and increasing understanding about apprenticeships.” O’Conner hopes he can connect more employers with apprentices, share his knowledge and ultimately just help out.

He added: “Research shows that companies become more competitive and productive with an apprenticeship training programme, not to mention cost savings, customer retention and satisfaction, efficiency and more.”

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