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National Apprenticeship Week 2019

James Caan: apprenticeships “are an exceptional success for us”

Photo credit: Frankie Sheahan

Former TV dragon, James Caan is a passionate believer in the power of apprenticeship programmes. He explains why they’re good for business — and for the apprentices themselves.


Self-made entrepreneur, James Caan CBE — former star of hit TV show, Dragons’ Den — is the founder and CEO of Mayfair-based private equity firm, Hamilton Bradshaw. The author of various business books and a noted philanthropist with his own foundation, Caan champions entrepreneurship in the UK, advising government on new businesses and the challenges facing SMEs.

My philosophy is that people are the greatest asset for any organisation. 

Why are you an advocate for apprenticeships?

I’ve employed apprentices in my portfolio of companies over the years. It’s been an exceptional success because apprenticeships can attract some excellent talent.

In my experience, apprentices are passionate, driven and motivated. They have something to prove, so they work hard and are very committed. That’s why apprenticeships are good from a business’s perspective.

From the apprentice’s perspective, they know they are being offered a unique opportunity — and an outstanding one, because they receive mentoring across a structured training development programme.

Should a business take on apprentices with a view of retaining them?

When we take on an apprentice, we don’t look at it as a short-term project because we have invested time, training and development into one individual who, by the end of the programme, has become a very valuable asset. That loyalty works both ways.

All organisations have to face the challenge of how they retain good people. When you develop someone from scratch through an apprenticeship programme, they tend to be very loyal to you.

Why is it important to increase diversity within apprenticeships?

Britain is a multicultural society, and our workplace is certainly very representative of that. A balanced working environment — featuring a cross-section of talent from different social backgrounds and different ethnic minorities — is a better, more productive working environment.

People don’t just come to work to earn money. It’s part of a social habit. If they enjoy work, if they like the people they work with and can learn from them, they tend to stay and be more productive.

What advice would you give to any business thinking of taking on an apprentice?

My philosophy is that people are the greatest asset for any organisation. So, all organisations need to have a comprehensive strategy on how they can attract the best possible talent — and, in my view, apprenticeships should be part of that strategy. We’ve certainly made it part of ours and, as a consequence, we’re covering the market and not finding people using just one source. Because, to have a workforce that is purely graduate-orientated or purely experience-orientated doesn’t give you the full picture.

February 2019

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