Being practical about exam requirements


All students now must have GCSE English and Maths

With the A level results out yesterday, there has been much in the press about vocational training schemes vs University etc.  This is an annual debate and discussion around exam time.

In recent years, it has been enforced for Schools and colleges that all students, regardless of their career path, must have English and Maths GCSE qualifications and therefore if they return to school or college for further studies, but without these as “passed” exams, they’ll resit them until they pass.

Being competent in English and Maths in order to go into the world of work is definitely a reasonable expectation.

BUT having a piece of paper that identifies you can write about Thomas Hardy, classify figures of speech, oxymorons and hyperbole,  or elaborate on polynomials or congruent triangles is perhaps not the most important thing in every section of the world of work.  Speaking to many organisatons, being able to communicate with colleagues and clients, the ability to problem solve or be a team player says more about the individual than the number of A* in their locker.

Changing our thinking on what we really need them to demonstrate

Maybe therefore the time has come to have an alternative means of measuring knowledge for these students.  Yes you want to be confident they can use good English to email customers; you want to ensure that it isn’t all “text” speak: you want to know that  they can work out percentage discounts; you want them to understand the basics of profit and loss…….but this is not what is measured by GCSE/A level examinations.

For these individuals, making it compulsory to attempt (on numerous occasions) something for which they have already been identified as a major stumbling block in their education, seems a waste of everyone’s time and effort.

It identifies them as persistent “failures” rather than giving them the confidence and ability to express what they do know, rather than what they don’t.

Let us hope that someone in office sees sense and thinks outside the box of examination criteria as a measure of success.



Meet the Trainer


Meet Janice, our Associate who specialises in Employment Law, HR issues and Discipline and Grievance. She is experienced in working with large and small organisations across a variety of industries in the private and voluntary sectors.

The courses delivered by Janice are always well received because she makes the complicated simple, doesn’t use jargon and understands the difficulties faced by staff and employers in what can sometimes be fraught and difficult discussions.

To talk through any support you would like for your business from an HR and employment perspective, call 01892 832059 or email

Key account management – the penalties of getting it wrong!

A local business near to us has been highly successful over a number of years.  It is a salon that has expanded to provide a range of services.  It started off as a “nail” bar, added tanning, and in more recent times has ventured into the world of hair removal, massage, make-up, pedicures and are now an Elemis franchisee.  Newer premises were leased 3 years ago and it’s always been a lesson in cross selling watching the staff casually drop into conversations about the next appointment, Mother’s day offer, holiday package on tanning etc.

Sadly though, they are losing customers.

It’s not always about the price.

And more importantly, those people who readily refer others to their services are now actively encouraging people to go elsewhere.  So what’s caused this downturn?

They increased their prices in early December….the first time in over 4 years, so that’s quite reasonable. What was a bit more of a shocker was the percentage increase of 30% overnight.

Now this may well be considered very justified, given that it was the first increase in 48 months….and let’s not forget, business is business, not charity!

What they forgot though was the power of communication.  In the preceding weeks, when sitting with clients, they’d had the opportunity to discuss the reasons for the increase, and indeed why they’d held their prices for so long.  Instead a small notice was placed by the cash desk and unsuspecting regular clients were hit with an extra hike…all just before the Christmas holidays.

There were grumblings – and lots of them, not only in the shop itself, but interestingly it radiated out to those regular clients and became a topic of conversation at social events, with many saying “I’ll be going somewhere else”.  It wasn’t so much about the price increase, because let’s face it, it’s a luxury that can easily be dropped from someone’s monthly outgoings.

What irked customers was:

  •       the lack of communication about the fact it was coming
  •       the timing –  many had budgeted for that little luxury in the run up to Christmas       and office parties, and to find they were forking out more, just made them mad
  •       the customer experience has also noticeably suffered.  Due to the increased           popularity in recent years, they haven’t invested in more staff, hence the same number of people are now doing a variety of jobs whilst still trying to provide a customer focused service. With fewer people doing more work, conversations with clients are disjointed and the opportunity to up-sell and cross-sell other services is lost.

Key account management whatever your business is a skill.  It is not just about looking after your big accounts.

As our trainer, Mandy says in her Key Account Management course – “Key account management is a strategic business approach with the objective of ensuring long-term and sustainable business partnerships with strategically important customers.  It has to be an integral part of your overall business strategy”

Whatever business decision you are making, if it affects your customers and they are going to notice changes, be that price increases, new premises or change of personnel, remember to engage with them.

They’re your most precious asset in positively marketing your business for free, or conversely, if they find you lacking, they’ll not hesitate to share their stories with others and persuade them to go elsewhere.

Education and Business – lifelong learners & how to inspire them

Inspired by a piece of artwork

We were fortunate in 2014 to visit Atlanta for a family wedding.  Spending some time in the city, we happened upon the sculpture below – a 23ft bronze archway called Climb with Care and Confidence.


The  sculpture was inspired by the work of S Truett Cathy, the founder of the Chick-fil-A food franchise (thoroughly recommend if you ever get the chance to sample one!).

Building your business and inspiring others

He started his first diner in 1946 in Atlanta and after becoming a popular spot for factory and airport workers, opened his first Chick-fil-A in 1967.  Today, there are franchises open all over the USA and staff never work Sundays to allow them time for family and church.

In 1973 he started the Team Member Scholarship programme to enable his employees in the diners to further their education.  This was a first for any fast food enterprise and in 1994 they achieved a $10 million scholarship milestone.  To recognise this, the Climb with Care and Confidence statue was designed by Georgia State University students depicting people, lending hands, to help others climb over an archway constructed of books.

The inscription reads: ” A person succeeds or fails according to the multitude of decisions that are made day after day.   The right decisions lead to rewards: incorrect decisions lead to disappointment and delay”
S.Truett Cathy, Founder of Chick-fil-A Inc.

The archway was dedicated just prior to the 1996 Olympic Games which is often remembered for the bomb that exploded, leaving two dead and many injured on 27th July 1996.

Investing in your employees for their future potential

Whilst the sculpture itself is a moving indictment of what people can achieve through education and opportunity, it is a monument to how to give back to your community –  a business that started small, grew and flourished to be worth in excess of $2 billion dollars a year is altruistic in its outlook, that the employees who work there can achieve so much with support.  Valuing your staff to enable them to develop, grow and accomplish more than they thought possible is something we can all learn from.  We may not have the resources to provide scholarships, but every business should encourage its employees to be lifelong learners to enable them to reach their potential.


The value of interns

Delighted to receive this today from an HR intern with one of our regular clients.  She’s worked with us over the last year on a variety of training and development courses, in some cases working closely with the trainers in a supportive capacity:-


Firstly, thank you so much for my lovely card I received yesterday and your kind words. Can’t believe there’s only 3 and a half days left! It’s gone so incredibly fast but have to say I’ve been incredibly lucky to have an amazing year!


It’s been a pleasure working with yourself, Keith and all the trainers across Athelbrae across the course of the year and thank you for all your help and support and insight on the various training programmes I have been able to attend and facilitate/support.


The value of engaging your interns so that they receive real hands on experience is not only beneficial to them and their development, but can be a huge asset and valuable contribution to the business too.


Exciting news re new Associate, Denise

Delighted that we’re able to start working with Marketer Denise Wilton on our new course about Marketing your Business for Free.

More details to follow, but with her extensive experience and knowledge of the industry and how to make the most of getting your business “out there”, we know this is going to be a big hit with SMEs.

We’ll keep you posted on the details, but really looking forward to cementing our “friendship” into a professional forum too!Denise