Although Laura Garden had enjoyed a successful career as a chartered accountant, her life-long passion for horses and a desire to run her own business eventually led her to taking over Busby Equitation Centre in Clarkston, near Glasgow.
And in the subsequent 25 years, Laura has gone on to build up a successful livery yard, riding school and equestrian shop.
The 16 full- and part-time employees based there include qualified teaching staff, grooms, managers and shop assistants, with a recurring theme being Laura’s commitment to the Modern Apprenticeship scheme.
Laura explained: “Taking on new apprentices has worked really well for us. We can control when and how our staff are trained, and make sure that they have the specific skills that we need.
“By combining on-the-job learning with part-time study, Modern Apprenticeships provide valuable training and a wage too, allowing young people to earn while they learn.
“It’s also good for staff who help train the new recruits, as most people who mentor apprentices find it very rewarding. The trainees appreciate working alongside their colleagues because they have someone handy to answer any questions about how they should be doing things.”
For Laura, the ability to deal with customers is a key part of the job. “Softer skills, like customer interaction and communication, are really important to any business. There’s a lot of emphasis on the technical aspect of horse management in the equine world, but the ability to get on with people is key. Like anything else in life, this is a skill you just have to learn. What I like about Modern Apprenticeships is that trainees are actually doing the job and dealing with customers early on, rather than just studying the theory.”
Businesses are increasingly dependent on technology too, so having a knowledge of IT can be a major advantage for trainees.
Laura continues: “Most of my staff use Facebook or Instagram, and it’s a great way to market the business and communicate directly with customers. The majority of our records and dealings with clients are digital, so office computing skills are very important to us as well.”
Businesses which employ Modern Apprentices have to commit a certain amount of time and resources to their new trainees, but the returns can be substantial.
Laura said: “The reason we’ve invested in apprentices over the last 20 years is that it works for us, and so I’d encourage other companies in the equine industry to try it too. Employers need to invest in their staff if we’re going to have a workforce that’s able to meet the challenges of the future.”