Emma Harrison is managing director at Whyy? Change, a Sheffield-based management consultancy and training company. Emma joined the organisation in 2019 in a governance officer role, before being promoted to governance director and eventually managing director in 2022. She has been studying for a quality practitioner apprenticeship to support the growth and expansion of the business as well as ensuring that the company’s processes work for the benefit of their customers.
“If women are practicing their skills in a safe learning environment with a supportive cohort of learners that will make a difference to help them feel more comfortable and confident, especially in workplaces that can be quite male-dominated.”
Embracing change and growth
I took a conventional path, doing GCSEs and A-Levels. I did my A-Levels in 1992, left school and did a management training position with John Lewis Partnership (previously known as Cole Brothers in Sheffield) and I worked there for eight years or so before I went on maternity leave to have my daughter. I went back to work when she was less than six months old, but didn’t want to go back into retail as I couldn’t get the hours I wanted.
I then went to work for NatWest Group, as it was at the time, within Lombard Direct Loans. I worked around my husband’s working hours, so I worked part time during evenings and weekends as a customer service advisor. I was quickly promoted to team leader in just over a year, and I worked there in several management roles.
We moved over to Royal Bank of Scotland Group but I was made redundant in 2009 so I went to work for a government outsourcing company for a couple of years, but I got a bit bored. (My team was brilliant but the job was very repetitive.) I then moved across to work for Close Brothers Motor Finance in a brand-new role, in a customer service team compliance role for their gap sales department. I worked there for about nine years within different control and governance roles
I got the opportunity to apply for a governance officer role here at Whyy? Change in March 2019. When I joined in June 2019 I started working with our CEO, Ray Byrne, and I was promoted to governance director in April 2021 and then again to managing director in September this year.
The thing that’s drawn me to this role is that I love working with people and processes. I thrive on knowing how things work and ensuring that our processes work for the benefit of our customers.
Transforming people and processes
Whyy? Change is a management consultancy and apprenticeship training provider. We work with several accredited partners to provide business knowledge and services, supporting organisations throughout the local region and beyond to develop and transform their people.
We are accredited partners with CMI (the Chartered Management Institute), the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing), and the CIPD (the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) for all their human resources and organisational development qualifications.
We’re also a study centre for Pearson Edexcel (for GCSE and A-Level qualifications) and a training partner for Bureau Veritas, a world-leading laboratory testing, inspection and certification services company working in the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and quality world. In addition to this, we’re also a training provider for Lean Six Sigma.
In my role as managing director, I support our CEO to oversee the running of the business as well as heading up the provision of apprenticeships, so as part of the Education Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) requirements for apprenticeship providers I ensure that we follow all the processes with regard to funding and eligibility for apprenticeships.
We are Ofsted monitored and had our first full inspection earlier this year. We received a grade 2 (equating to a ‘good’ rating), which we were absolutely thrilled about for our first full inspection. The inspection took place over a very stressful three days, but the process was extremely worthwhile at the same time.
I also oversee the apprentice journey from the very first conversations with the learners and the tutors, normally following the apprentices’ journey all the way through to the end point assessment, once they complete their programme. I love this because I get to know all the apprentices very well.
I’m not involved in any training delivery such, but I oversee everything from the governance and compliance perspective, ensuring all the steps that need to take place as part of each training plan happen at the right time. What’s important as well is making sure that all apprentices have a great experience throughout their apprenticeships.
Change for the better
The change programmes that we provide are delivered using Lean Six Sigma. We deliver Yellow Belt, Green Belt, and Black Belt training to ISO 18404 standard. Our CEO, Ray Byrne, is a Master Black Belt. He did his training years ago in America for Lean Six Sigma and that’s underpinned why the business was set up, to transform our clients’ businesses
The way to transform businesses is not just giving somebody the training and saying: “Right, there’s a tool, go away and do it.” It’s about developing people’s skills in that area so they’re actually able to apply what they’ve learned in the workplace. That’s the key part of what we do.
It’s not just a case saying to someone: “You’re going on a two-day course” and six months later they are thinking: “What earth do I actually do with these?” It’s a case of applying their learning to what they’re working on in the workplace on a consistent basis to really drive transformation and change, improving how the organisation works and shaping them for future growth.
There’s still a lot of preconceptions about what an apprenticeship actually is and who it’s for. Apprenticeship training isn’t just for your 16 to 18-year-olds, or even your 16 to 24-year-olds. I’m just finishing off my quality practitioner apprenticeship, and I’m 48!
There are no age barriers to learning at all. We’ve had an apprentice who was in their early sixties, so if you’re wanting to learn and you’re wanting to make a difference within your organisation there shouldn’t be any barriers.
Sometimes it’s just educating organisations as to what options are out there with regard to accessing funding for apprenticeships. It’s important to challenge the preconceptions around the age of learners because that is a massive barrier we have to break down when we’re having conversations with employers and apprentices.
No one size fits all when it comes to apprenticeships
We offer accredited apprenticeship qualifications, so with our leadership programme, for example, our apprentices come out with a CMI Diploma in Principles of Management and Leadership alongside their apprenticeship certificate.
There are many other types of apprenticeships — so for example there’s degree apprenticeships offered by some universities. Obviously, there’s a degree attached to them but it’s still following the same apprenticeship process — you still learn significant new knowledge, skills and behaviours to develop within your chosen apprenticeship standard.
You still follow the same process with regards to end-point assessment, so using two or three different assessment methods at the end of the practical period to assess your competence in that apprenticeship standard, it’s just that it has a degree in their chosen field attached to it as well as their apprenticeship certificate.
The power of earning while you’re learning
Apprenticeships allow you to earn while you learn so as long as your employer’s happy to give you the time away from your role to attend the learning sessions they then get the benefit of you applying your new knowledge and skills in your workplace. As long as you’ve got a really supportive employer who’s willing to commit and support your development it’s a really beneficial way to upskill yourself.
A safe environment to grow
Learning face-to-face through an apprenticeship provides you with a safe environment to practice your skills and develop your knowledge, rather than just thinking: “Well, if I go out and try this in the workplace, is it going to be seen as what are they doing, what do they know?”
If women are practicing their skills in a safe learning environment with a supportive cohort of learners that will make a difference to help them feel more comfortable and confident, especially in workplaces that can be quite male-dominated.
It’s important not to put barriers in your own way. In my career, if I’ve seen a job that has interested me, it’s that genuine interest that propelled me to apply for it rather than it just being about the job. For me, it’s always been whether the topic interests me, whether the type of business interests me, so it’s that genuine interest and love of what I do that’s allowed me to progress through the businesses I’ve worked in.
Elevating people from diverse groups
We get people from all sections of society coming in and training with us. It’s a big confidence booster. Sometimes people can feel misrepresented within their workplace so it’s also about personal development as well as building the knowledge and skills to actually do your role well.
We provide a lot of support around personal development, so developing confidence, presentation skills, responding to questions, how to conduct yourself in a meeting, how to chair meetings, that type of thing. Having those personal and social skills makes a massive difference in being able to elevate yourself within your environment if you are feeling misrepresented or you come from a group that is underrepresented.
Applying learning across diverse organisations
We work with businesses from many different sectors. We’ve worked with the private sector and the public sector, such as councils, and even charities. I’d say we do most work with engineering and manufacturing businesses, and we work with a couple of construction businesses as well.
It’s fascinating though as we’ve had previously had some delegates from local councils and they did Lean Six Sigma at the practitioner apprenticeship standard but they were able to apply it within a service environment rather than a manufacturing environment, which is very different, but it’s all about adapting how you work with the tools that you’re learning about. That’s been incredibly beneficial for them around cost saving in the services they’re providing.
When it comes to the local charities we work with they’re not producing any physical products as such, but they’re providing a service to their service users. It’s been helping them to become more efficient, but also look at cost savings and how they can provide a better service.
Looking forward to a bright future
In the next three weeks, I am doing my final assessments (that go towards my end-point assessment) for my quality practitioner apprenticeship. That starts this Friday and finishes on the 5th of December, so I’m hoping I will at least pass that, but I would love to achieve a distinction given how hard I’ve worked throughout the course and in pulling everything together for my project.
Then it’s a case of getting a result before Christmas and hopefully this being a positive outcome for me to enjoy. (Fingers crossed!) Then next year is about focusing on growth and driving forward the business now the fabulous Anne (Wilson) has joined us.
The team is working well together so it’s just about us developing and growing so we can support more organisations throughout the Sheffield area and beyond. As well as South Yorkshire we’ve also got clients in West Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, as well as a couple of national businesses. We deliver some online sessions for a delegate down in London but we really value face-to-face interactions wherever we can facilitate these.
I’m excited for a bright future alongside my incredible team.