Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business


Opening Minds Through Talent & Apprenticeship Programmes


The Open University is the UK’s leading provider of flexible distance learning, helping people and organisations reach their potential through a range of programmes – from degree apprenticeships to engaging short courses and impactful micro-credential courses.

Rhys Griffiths, the OU’s Business Relationship Manager in Wales, recently invited Drew Barrett, the Senior Engineering Manager for Openreach in Central and North Wales, to take part in a digital discussion on the future of talent: exploring how Openreach have successfully run their talent and apprenticeship schemes – a key factor in why the company was ranked 15th in 2020 on The Sunday Times’ list of “25 Best Big Companies to Work For”.

A commitment to Learning & Development has seen Openreach become one of the top large companies to work for

This thought-provoking conversation was the latest in the OU’s “Talent, It’s Our Future” series of digital discussions – exploring the challenges being faced in sourcing new employees and the successful ways that companies can ensure that their workforce is upskilled and incentivised to stay and develop their careers with their employers. In a wide-ranging debate, Rhys and Drew considered how the pandemic has disrupted the development of key skills and learning across apprenticeship and traineeship schemes – and how Openreach, as the largest private sector provider of apprenticeships in the UK, have remained a leader in employee skills development, continuing to foster positive working attitudes throughout an extraordinary time.

The continual support and constant encouragement has helped me on my journey to senior management

Drew leads the Openreach teams in Central and North Wales – working with his colleagues at all levels to deliver a whole host of services, from installing the fast fibre in new homes to implementing the large multi-billion pound infrastructure programmes currently being rolled-out right across the country. Drew shared his own experience of “finding himself” and discovering his true potential when he became an apprentice with Openreach – and detailed how he had benefited from the structured support and continual informal encouragement he’s received on his professional journey to the senior role he now holds.

Every new starter has a 12 month pathway – with an emphasis on ‘embedding’ as well as ‘learning’ new skills

That supportive and individualised philosophy is quite typical of the highly-personalised approach shown by Openreach to everyone who joins the team – with every new starter enjoying an initial 12 month pathway that blends both practical and classroom learning, embedding new skills and an overarching culture of excellence and health and safety in everything that’s done, leading to a recognised NVQ at the end of the first year with the company. ‘Embedding’ rather than just ‘learning’ new skills is a core part of the Openreach approach, with continual buddying and mentoring schemes helping everyone integrate fully into the team, giving everyone the permission to ask any question or voice any concern they have, large of small, in a ‘safe’ and trusted environment.

L&D is key to attracting and retaining as well as developing and progressing the talent you need

Rhys was highly impressed and complimentary at the way Openreach made everyone feel welcome and ‘belonging’ from day one – praising the way the company recognised different learning styles and paces of development, consciously designing the learning programmes to make them highly relevant to the individual, in the most inclusive of ways. Rhys also asked if Openreach saw providing a continual opportunity to develop and be recognised as a way of retaining their people – and Drew agreed, emphasising that Openreach give every employee the chance to take ownership of their career development, through a range of career paths and a wealth of internal resources that include over 3,000 micro-bite-sized training videos, an internal virtual Academy and ongoing programmes that include a Mentor/Mentee scheme, a Future Leaders programme – and recent initiatives to strengthen managers’ expertise across business management, people management and blue-sky thinking, with Rhys remarking how positive it was to see the engineers also experiencing the benefit of a manager’s training, through improvements in the way they are managed.

The principles of the Openreach approach are similar to those of the Open University‘s OpenLearning platform

Rhys was particularly struck by the similarities between the way Openreach provide a 24/7 access to training ‘on demand’ – in effect matching the training with the motivation of the employee – and the Open University’s own OpenLearning platform, which is also built in a user-centric way to give people access to the training they want, when they want it.

The conversation moved on to discussing Openreach’s National Training Centre for Wales, based in Newport – a multi-million pound commitment to training the team in Wales, with a state-of-the-art area that simulates real-world working scenarios. Rhys was greatly impressed by the facility, noting how powerfully skills can be immediately embedded if they are practiced in a real-world setting – something that Open University have incorporated into the Degree Apprenticeship training programmes they offer to employers.

Drew emphasised the total commitment of Openreach to its people:

“they’re our greatest asset, our competitive advantage and the face of our company; and we’re very proud of the fact that 90% of our employees believe that they make a real difference here.”

Embedding a culture of learning is all about Leadership, Empowering People and providing the Mentorships that people need

The discussion closed with Rhys commenting that it’s clear the Openreach learning and development is all geared to delivering a brilliant customer service on so many levels.

Asking Drew what he believed are the three main principles underpinning the success of the Openreach in embedding a culture of learning, he said:

“Firstly, it’s about Leadership – it has to start at the top. Then it’s all about Empowering People, allowing them to take ownership of their career development; with access to all the resources and support they need. And finally, I can’t overstate the importance of providing mentorships – they’re critical to learning and employee engagement; and there’s no better feeling than experiencing that knowledge share, whether you’re a mentor or mentee.”

Rhys agreed wholeheartedly with all three key points – and encouraged anyone who wanted to know more to contact him at [email protected]