"In the minds of a lot of people, apprentices are still people who do manual types of work. You have apprentices on a construction site, you don't have them in an office. WhiteHat showed us that apprentices belong in our business. They helped us to find apprentices who will grow and evolve with Bulb, and taught us how to help them succeed." - Meera Patel, Talent and Diversity Specialist, Bulb
Challenges: Keep pace with lightning-fast growth, cut zero corners on D&I.
In just three years, Bulb has become the biggest green energy company in the UK. With a firmly conscious mission and more than one million members, Talent and Diversity Specialist Meera Patel knew employee experience would prove crucial to the startup's long-term success.
“In my role, I help to hire the best talent for Bulb. Part of doing that is thinking about how we can improve our team’s diversity. This isn’t just of professional interest to me. My personal experiences in getting a job have been different from those of my male friends, my White friends, or my disabled friends. There's a real difference in how the world has told different people what they should and shouldn't expect from the workplace," says Meera.
From the beginning, Bulb had a commitment to diversity. But Meera wasn't about to let things get too comfortable.
"I feel strongly that the onus is not on the person to change things. As a business, it’s on Bulb to fix these problems. We have an opportunity to change the hiring and working experience for people who work here. And the more we can do to create a diverse and inclusive workforce, the more people are able to flourish and have an impact." Meera explains.
But with no signs of slowing, Meera knew she'd need to find a way to make D&I more practical and more scalable.
"Because Bulb was growing so quickly, D&I work was often taken for granted. A lot of the team were already aware of the need to create inclusive spaces and supportive of the idea. But this doesn’t automatically create an inclusive culture; you have to actively build that."
To uphold their mission of a truly inclusive workplace, Meera focuses on two main areas: building an infrastructure to support D&I, and taking action to improve things on the practical level—including apprenticeships.
Solution: Bring on a diverse cohort of apprentices from a variety of backgrounds.
“As a team, we decided that hiring apprentices was a good idea. I didn’t have any experience with it, but got stuck in” laughs Meera.
One of Bulb's team members happened to be friends with Abbi, an account manager at WhiteHat, and the rest was history.
“We were building money into our Apprenticeship Levy. That money was already there and if you don't use it, you lose it. And Bulb is the kind of place where if you suggest a good idea, you'll usually get a 'yes'."
And in the spirit of fast but intentional growth, Meera and the team are taking their time to learn from their apprentices and find out exactly where they fit within the company's long game.
“Our apprentices are going to be with us for a year and a half, which is a long time for such a young company, and that's a really big bonus for us. We know these are people who are going to be in the team for the foreseeable future and who are going to make a really big contribution over time."
Meera and her team worked closely with Abbi and the WhiteHat team to find best-fit candidates and select apprentices that could grow and evolve with the business.
"Given that so many of the apprentices come from such different backgrounds, we treat every apprentice as an individual. We want to make sure that we’re setting our apprentices up for success, and part of this is making sure we’re setting the right goals for them. Having conversations with Abbi about what our expectations should be has been really helpful," explains Meera.
7 - Apprentices hired
1-2 - New apprentices each month
1 - Fresh perspective on apprenticeships
In addition to the diversity benefits, Meera's also glad to have the recruitment help.
"What we like about WhiteHat was the commitment to diversity in terms of the kind of candidates they put forward, but also in terms of the quality of the candidates and the extent of the process they go through before being presented to employers. It's not some sort of open source where anyone can submit their CV. It's curated and very thought through," says Meera.
Currently, there are 7 WhiteHat apprentices at Bulb and another 1-2 coming on board each month.
"We're continuing to hire apprentices and Abbi always has four or five people shortlisted for me each month. It's a very easy-to-run process. WhiteHat takes care of a lot of communication with the candidates as well, which just means that's five less people for me to have to email," laughs Meera.
But for Meera, the real benefit is the opportunity to build an inclusive experience from day one.
"I really like the Employee Portal; it helps you to get to know the candidate on a personal level," she explains.
And as with so many startup journeys, Meera and the Bulb team are all about learning and iterating as they grow.
"When I started working with WhiteHat, we were new to apprenticeships. Abbi and the rest of the WhiteHat team have been so helpful. She helped me understand what it meant to have apprentices, what their time would look like, how they might be different from other people in the team, even the actual process of recruiting them," she says.
And like so many people in the startup world, Meera can never say no to a good challenge.
"It's good for companies to think about where they're hiring from and what they're looking for in a hire. Our apprentices have a wide variety of skills and it’s a great challenge for us to help them tap into their true potential and ensure that they’re able to succeed," she says.
Since hiring apprentices, Meera has seen members of the team step up to become true mentors and leaders within their roles. But as someone who can't help but factor the employee experience into every move she makes, Meera keeps her eyes fixed on the goal of building a truly inclusive and deeply human workplace.
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