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Matt’s passion to share a lifelong love of learning

West Berkshire Training Consortium chief on his career

Matt Garvey
Matt Garvey

Matt Garvey knew he wanted to work in education. But after a term teaching he also knew he didn’t want to be a teacher.

So a career in further education followed and he has now spent the past decade playing a pivotal role in developing apprenticeships across the district.

The 45-year-old, who lives in Basingstoke, was born and bred in Birmingham – an inner city childhood that is a far cry from the area he now calls home.

“My school was built on a kind of marsh and was always sinking,” he explains. “And then it burnt down too.

“The last time I looked it was being investigated for financial irregularities and was judged as inadequate by Ofsted.”

But despite being a “very run-down school” Matt remembers his teachers were “very hard-working and supportive”.

“It didn’t have a sixth form so I went to an FE [further education] college,” he adds. “Back then that was just what you did; there wasn’t anything on offer that I would see as a quality apprenticeship like there is now.

“I was interested in science, but being interested in something and being good at something are very different things.”

Matt took what he described as a ‘stop-gap job’ at the Benefits Agency in a very deprived area of Birmingham.

He ended up staying for four years, before a disagreement with his boss led him into a life-changing decision. He was off to university.

“It was one of the best decisions I ever made,” he admits.

He joined a teacher training college in Chichester in 1995, choosing it mainly because the area “was just nicer; everything was nicer compared to growing up in a big city”.

“I didn’t realise places like Chichester existed,” he adds. “I had been working almost exclusively in a poor part of the city, so my life was so different to coming to a cathedral city. It was all just so positive for me.”

Matt spent four years in Chichester and began teaching on the sports programme in an FE college in his final year.

Within six weeks he recalls the realisation that teaching was “the last thing I want to do”.

“When I was at school I enjoyed being there; I liked learning,” he explains. “Then I found myself on the other side with classes of 30 who didn’t feel that way. I found it very frustrating and thought it would be a battle every day to enthuse them and I didn’t think I had that in me.”

But Matt did enjoy the post-16 aspect of education, even if teaching wasn’t the way to go about it.

So he moved to Portsmouth to take a role working within the then-embryonic National Traineeship scheme.

“The work being done was great and was really bridging the gap for the children it was aimed at,” he explains. It was seen as the poor relation of A-levels, working with youngsters who may have had some learning or social issues.

“They had been through the revolving door of FE and sixth form and not got anywhere.

“That was my introduction into what we now know of as apprenticeships.”

Matt stayed there for six months before moving to a similar company for a short time, where he was made redundant.

After this he had a brief foray back into teaching at Basingstoke College; his experience with ‘key skills’ – a new way to bring up the mathematics and English standards of youngsters – was quite rare at that time.

“But again after four weeks I realised I really couldn’t do teaching,” he admits. “I have so much respect and time for those who can do it and who do it well.

“I realised I wasn’t going to be able to do that for the next 40 years and that’s when I saw an advert for a job at the West Berkshire Training Consortium (WBTC).”

That was 18 years ago and is how Matt came to work in Newbury.

He got the job and has been working with businesses of all sizes across the area since then to provide the best apprenticeship service for everyone.

But, he confesses, he had no idea the ‘business development recruitment coordinator’ post he had successfully applied for was basically a salesman role – until he walked through the door on the first day.

“I just thought I am not a salesman, but here I still am, unwittingly, in a sales role,” he laughs. “I have surprised myself though and realised I am better at it that I thought.

“I realised the most effective sales people are good listeners who aim to empathise and understand their customers.”

In 2004 Matt was promoted to director of sales and marketing, but two years later he decided to move on and joined a national provider, which gave him a region to run.

It was here that he says he learned how to run a business, which would prove essential when the time came to return to Newbury.

In 2010, WBTC chief executive officer Tammera Easterling called him and asked him to come back as managing director.

“It was very unexpected, but after some deliberation I said yes,” he adds.

The consortium currently works with around 150 different employers, which all offer varying levels of apprenticeships across a hugely diverse range of sectors.

West Berkshire has a very high level of students who stay on at sixth form and go off to university, Matt explains, but he adds that in the past three years a shift away from these cultural attitudes has resulted in a higher uptake of apprenticeships.

“That could be down to the costs of university now,” he says. “Or that the academic rigour of apprenticeships has continued to increase to assure people it is robust learning.

“Thirdly, the nature of the employers taking on apprentices used to be purely small businesses, but now big companies are putting together apprenticeship programmes.

“This has all helped strengthen the credibility of an apprenticeship and there is now a lot of competition to get on to the schemes.”

WBTC is now the leading apprentice provider for achievement in the Thames Valley, with an 82 per cent achievement rate – compared to 67.7 per cent nationally.

More than 90 per cent of apprentices are still with the company a year after finishing their apprenticeship too, another statistic Matt is rightly proud of.

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