Ahead of this week's Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards, we focus on one of our finalists and the impact apprenticeships have had across the Blenheim Estate:
The Blenheim Estate covers c.4,850 hectares in-and-around Woodstock. Its core service is tourism, with c.950,000 people visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace, annually. In addition to tourism, the charity utilises the grounds to conduct farming, game, forestry, renewable energy generation and housebuilding. In 2018, it acquired Pye Homes, a construction company that has been building homes across Oxfordshire for almost a century.
Blenheim has three focuses for its core business in the years leading to 2027, including; leaving a legacy to be able to share and protect the historic site for future generations, eliminating its carbon emissions to support the climate emergency and ensuring they enhance the lives of the people of Oxfordshire.
A lot can happen in 300 years – and almost as much in just 10.
In 2017, Blenheim announced its ambitious strategy for the decade ahead, setting out 10 goals to maintain the estate’s legacy into the 21st Century. One of these was to train 100 apprentices by 2027.
Now almost five years on from the scheme’s launch, 51 Apprentices have completed or are undergoing apprenticeship training, putting Blenheim on-track to exceed its goal and making them a cornerstone employer in OxLEP Skills’ work in partnership with the Government sponsored Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC).
Like all visitor attractions, Blenheim was hit hard by the pandemic. Despite this, the organisation added £84 million to the economy in 2020-21, buoyed by a diversity of business activities. This variety of work also means apprentices can be found across the estate, in 36 different subject areas; the current 28-strong cohort includes assistant accountants and arborists, bricklayers and business administrators.
Among them is Nicole Nielsen-Pike, who first joined Blenheim as a Welcome Host upon leaving school at 16. Four years on, she has progressed through Level 2 and Level 3 NVQ Apprenticeships in Customer Service, earnt a major promotion and is now working towards a BA Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (Level 6) in Business and Management at Oxford Brookes University – an achievement she is rightfully proud of.
“I did not get the grades at school to be able to stay on at sixth form, so I thought this option was ruled out”, says Nicole – who is now a Guest Services Supervisor, tasked with leading a 200-person team to promote commercial revenues like tours and talks, drive gift aid targets, and ultimately deliver a five-star visitor experience. “Knowing Blenheim wanted to invest in me to put me through this Degree Apprenticeship was a great feeling, as it also secured me four more years working within the business”.
Since 2017, 100% of Blenheim’s apprentices are in training or employment. Nicole is one of the 19% that have been employed by Blenheim and the 30% that have entered further apprenticeship training with Blenheim.
“Nicole has become a prominent figure at Blenheim as an excellent example of how individuals can succeed at Blenheim”, remarks Eleanor Paice, Blenheim’s Guest Services Manager. “She has pushed herself to do things out of her comfort zone and has excelled at this, looking at new ways to expand her knowledge on the business by working in other departments and leading new initiatives”.
During the first lockdown, Abingdon and Witney College gave Nicole the opportunity to gain a Level 2 qualification in Mental Health Awareness. “I felt passionate about this as the pandemic was a difficult time for everyone”, says Nicole. Being able to recognise different signs and reach out to my team has been rewarding”. Her work in this arena has had a noticeable impact on the team’s morale and supports Blenheim’s goal of becoming one of the UK’s top 100 employers.
For Nicole, the entire experience has been transformative: “Apprenticeships are a great opportunity for anyone to really develop their skills, but most importantly develop as a person”, she states. “I would recommend apprenticeships to anyone who is looking to for a foot in the door opportunity, to be able to secure a qualification.”
Once a teenager who never thought achieving a degree was possible, Nicole has become a role model for those that follow.
“Having been at Blenheim for some time now, she is able to support the Apprentices going through the same experience with advice and support to guide them to achieving their goals”, says Eleanor. “She is absolutely part of Blenheim's legacy and making sure the journey continues”.
Blenheim is a shortlisted finalist and sponsor for the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards 2022 Apprenticeship Employer of the Year (more than 250 employees) Award (sponsored by Oxford North). The Awards will celebrate apprenticeship successes from across the county on Thursday 19 May 2022. tune into the ceremony from 7pm to find out the winners.
Whether you’re a small business or a large corporation, apprenticeships can work for you. Employers considering or wanting support with apprenticeships can contact the OxLEP Skills team.