The Apprentice Store Jumps for Calman Trust

Are you interested in supporting a local charity?

Three of our employees are wanting to do a skydive for a local Highland charity Calman Trust. Calman Trust supports young people aged 14 to 25 who are at risk of being left behind as a result of their personal challenges. Through a person centred approach, young people develop the skills and understanding they need to manage independent living, leading to a readiness for employment and the tools to sustain this with Calman Trust.

Why?

The reason we are jumping for Calman Trust is that we want to support a local charity that wishes to make a difference with young people in and around our community. We are a social enterprise ourselves that has a similar purpose by helping young people into the world of work through the IT sector while helping them to develop their core skills and confidence.

Working to support and raise money for Calman Trust not only helps a like minded group of individuals but also works to support our shared social purpose of helping young people.

Get involved

Any contribution will go a long way to support a young person in their development with no young person deserving to be left behind.

You may also decide to sponsor us for a challenge which we will be announcing soon through our social media and website.

The Apprentice Store becomes the first IT provider in Scotland to be platinum accredited by Investors in Young People (IIYP)

Inverness-based IT services provider and social enterprise, The Apprentice Store, has become the first IT provider in Scotland to achieve platinum accreditation by Investors in Young People (IIYP) and only the sixth organisation in Scotland to achieve this recognition.

A plaque to commemorate this achievement was presented by Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, at the organisation’s office in Inverness today.

Launched in 2014, Investors in Young People is a good practice framework, designed to support employers in all sectors, to develop their youth employment practices to attract, recruit, develop and retain young people. Accreditation can be achieved across four levels: standard, silver, gold and platinum.

The accreditation follows an inspection which took place earlier this year and builds on the gold level awarded in 2019. The Apprentice Store was praised for its sustained emphasis on attraction; recruitment; and retention of young people (including those who face barriers to work) across 2020-2022 and despite COVID-19. During the pandemic, the organisation continued to provide Graduate Apprenticeships; Modern Apprenticeships;  Foundation Apprenticeships; traineeships and work experience placements.

The culture at The Apprentice Store was also singled out as a differentiator, described as “inclusive; encouraging; supportive; and non-judgemental”.

Speaking about the platinum accreditation, David Massey, Managing Director of The Apprentice Store, said: “Becoming the first IT provider in Scotland to achieve platinum accreditation by Investors in Young People means a great deal to us. We have a very clear vision and purpose to create employment opportunities for young people in IT and we will only achieve that by prioritising our young people and creating a culture that meets their needs and sets them up to succeed. I am proud that this culture has been recognised. The last two years have been challenging for everybody and we had to rethink and adapt how we worked. Our team spirit and culture are stronger than ever and to have this officially recognised is incredible.”

Fergus Ewing, MSP added: “The Investors in Young People accreditation is a significant achievement and as a result of much hard work. Many congratulations to all at The Apprentice Store.”

Bonnie Clarke, Chief Executive of This is Remarkable, the organisation licensed to deliver Investors in Young People, commented: “I want to personally congratulate The Apprentice Store for achieving the prestigious Investors In Young People Platinum award.  This is truly a great accolade, this level of recognition is only awarded to the very highest achieving organisations who are genuinely supporting their young people to flourish. The Apprentice Store had a myriad of great examples of supporting young people but the standout characteristic for me is the positive culture, demonstrating a natural inclusivity; encouraging people to thrive in a supportive and non-judgemental manner, fostering a strong sense of community, and belonging. Huge congratulations and credit to the whole team for this great achievement.”

The Apprentice Store, which now employs 12 staff, offers web development, cyber security, IT support, and IT consultancy. The organisation works with businesses of all sizes and sectors from the public, private and third sector and is the only Scottish IT service provider that invests all profits into staff.

The Apprentice Store team being handed their IIYP Platinum accreditation by Fergus Ewing MSP.

Social impact recognised in the 2022 Supporters Awards from The Apprentice Store

IT company and social enterprise, The Apprentice Store, based in Inverness, has issued clients with Supporters Awards for the second year running. The Supporters Awards see companies all over the UK, but predominantly in the Highlands, recognised for their ongoing support of the organisation and the value of that support in terms of its social impact.

The Supporters Awards are designed to demonstrate the social impact of choosing IT services from The Apprentice Store and to recognise the contribution of those businesses who continue to support the organisation in its mission to create sustainable employment for young people in IT in the Highlands.

In total, 92 businesses have been given an award, including one platinum award given to Cairn Consulting for the second consecutive year. There are also three gold awards (ILM Highland; Whale-like-fish; Cru Holdings), nine silver awards (dbsProjects; Communities Housing Trust; Interface; Seaboard Memorial Hall; Connecting Carers; Calman Trust; Safety, Welding, Lifting; Calico UK; North West Marine) and ten bronze awards (Practically Green; Charity Digital Exchange; Jane Goodall Institute; Carlton Clubs; Cairngorm Brewery; Virtual Learning Academy; Lochaber Chamber of Commerce; 2bcreative; Sight Action; Taste of Moray).

Speaking about the Supporters Awards, David Massey, Managing Director and Founder of The Apprentice Store, said: “I am absolutely thrilled to be issuing the 2022 Supporters Awards. In just one year, we are recognising an additional 30 organisations with a platinum, gold, silver or bronze award versus 2021 and, overall, 141 organisations are included in the scheme, up from 99 in 2021. These are all businesses who have chosen The Apprentice Store to provide IT support. By recognising them through the Supporters Awards, we are acknowledging their role in creating sustainable employment for young people.”

The awards are presented to every business that contributes at least one week of an apprentice salary. The awards are structured as follows:

  • Platinum: 100% of salary
  • Gold: 75% of salary
  • Silver: 50% of salary
  • Bronze: 25% of salary
  • 5 Stars: 10% of salary
  • 4 Stars: 8% of salary
  • 3 Stars: 6% of salary
  • 2 Stars: two weeks of salary
  • 1 Star: one week of salary

Ian Moore from Cairn Consulting, recipient of a platinum Supporters Award for a second time, said: “I am so glad to be able to have contributed towards supporting an apprentice. Helping the next generation along, whilst also addressing current challenges and opportunities, makes it a win-win situation. For as long as the services and results continue to justify our decision to work with The Apprentice Store, I will continue to recommend David and the team and consider them at every possible opportunity.”

The Apprentice Store’s growing client list is being serviced by a bigger team at the social enterprise which now employs 11 members of staff.

What makes a good apprentice?

Scotland has access to a family of apprenticeships that allows employers to engage with flexible Foundation, Modern, and Graduate-level apprenticeship frameworks and during National Apprenticeship Week 2022 we want to highlight our experience of apprentices.

The Apprentice Store has been employing apprentices for 5 years and has assisted 17 apprentices with their apprenticeship in that time. We do not just employ apprentices, we have also supported 9 young people with their Foundation apprenticeship whilst they are still in school. The COVID pandemic has created some challenges for apprentices and employers alike in how to onboard, support, and develop at distance – we wish to share our experience of apprenticeships to assist people who are looking to be an apprentice as well as employers who are considering employing an apprentice.

So, what makes a good apprentice?

When you think about apprentices, it is typical to think of a young person, but apprentices can be over the age of 24 so our first piece of advice is you do not need to be young to be an apprentice. The reason apprentices are typically younger is apprenticeships offer a great framework to develop new skills, but they can also be used to retrain or upskill. Employers seek to employ young people to attract new staff into their business and develop skills specific to their business as they see value in developing staff through apprenticeships. Apprentices and employers are supported by a training company that is funded by Skills Development Scotland to cover the support, guidance, and training to achieve the SQA accredited qualification from the many apprenticeship frameworks that are available.

The commitment to learn, from our perspective, needs to be the most important objective for the apprentice as they will be given the opportunity to learn through work experience regardless of their age. This may seem obvious, but the employer and training provider need the apprentice to show progression, so it requires the apprentice to show commitment and improvement in skills and knowledge. We have found that young people are keen to learn and as they have so much that they can learn they will show the biggest change once they become confident in their ability. When the apprentice is older, they come with life skills and previous work experience and typically have a clearer vision of what they want to achieve and will develop at a faster pace.

Apprentices as part of a team

Our apprentices all want to feel part of a team and typically learn by doing rather than being told what to do and as result require a suitable support framework. We look to buddy an apprentice with a member of our team who is supported by an internal skills mentor in addition to their training provider coach. We passionately believe that this support framework gives our apprentices the opportunity to learn from different people who bring different support techniques, knowledge, and availability.

Apprentices need to be confident in asking questions when they do not understand something, we see this as a strength of character rather than a weakness and we continuously re-enforce this in our working practices and not just for our apprentices. We believe that this culture shows our team can learn from each other, regardless of their experience and position within the business as there is always an opportunity to expand your knowledge and understanding if you ask questions. We find that our staff gain an insight into the progress of their own skills development by being asked to explain something or support another member of staff in understanding something.

Applying for an apprenticeship

We do not believe that academic background and any work experience are critical to the success of an apprenticeship, but we do recognise that other employers may feel differently about this. We believe that investing in an apprentice that wants to learn will build confidence in their ability to succeed.

When an apprentice applies for any apprenticeship, we suggest that they should do the following:

  1. Research the organisation that they are applying for to show an interest and desire to join the team.
  2. Research how the apprenticeship will benefit your development and how this will assist the organisation with their goals.
  3. Customise your personal statement in your CV for the role and organisation that you are applying for based on the research.
  4. Ensure that your covering email is professionally written as failure to compose this well may exclude you from the next stage.
  5. Go prepared with some questions for the interview as this shows commitment as many people do not ask questions.
  6. When you get your apprenticeship that is when the work really starts as you are now earning, so you need to learn. Your employer can help you learn but you need to learn and remember what you have learnt.
  7. Speak to your training coach and your line manager about challenges and opportunities.
  8. Believe in yourself and your ability but listen to advice given to you.

Conclusion

Apprenticeships offer a fantastic opportunity for the apprentice to enter the workforce or reskill and for employers it allows them to invest in their future workforce. Investing in your new workforce is just as important as investing in your current workforce and apprenticeships allow for a culture of learning within an organisation.

Interested in apprenticeships and what you can do to apply or support one? Contact us at info@theapprenticestore.co.uk or call us on 01463 832459.

This blog was written by our Founding Director, David Massey.

Working with Xero

About Xero

Xero is a cloud-based accounting software best used for small to medium-sized businesses and is the website I use for the finances at The Apprentice Store. This accounting software is a great tool for upscaling businesses with currently over 3+ million subscribers using Xero for their financial tasks. Invoicing and billing are kept separate and is very easy to manage and can be set up to be automated which makes financing easier and a lot quicker. This software can even connect to company bank accounts allowing for a business snapshot that gives information and graphs about the business performance which are very clear and thorough.

Getting started

If you have never worked with Xero, it can be very daunting and it may feel like you will never understand a single aspect of the website.  However, with time and with a feature on Xero called demo company which allows the user to try the many features Xero offers on a fake company which gets you more comfortable on Xero and allows you to learn without possibly messing up the real business’s Xero account.  Xero even allows you to control and manage petty cash for the business by showing you the balance, showing you a graph of the balance through the previous months, and a record of everything purchased using petty cash with receipts attached.

Xero Features

One aspect of Xero that makes it very useful is there is an option to make repeating invoices. You can make it so that an invoice that you have created will be created again each month and sent to the client, this can all be done automatically saving you a lot of time.  It is very easy to update the repeating invoices if there are any changes to what is being billed.  If there are also any bills that you know will be repeating you can set up repeating bills that will be created automatically which again just adds to the speed and comfort Xero allows you to achieve.  There is also a reports system in Xero which creates a table for you in Xero where you can choose what rows to have, any grouping required or any filters needed, then you can export that table into Microsoft Excel where there are more ways to manipulate the data, for example creating pivot tables with the extracted data.

An example of when creating a report and exporting to excel could be useful is if you were needing to get a list of all clients who purchased a specific item in the last month:

  • First, you need to go to the “Accounting” tab and click on “Reports”.
Step one: Xero interface, click Accounting then Reports.
Xero INterface, showing the Reports page.
  • You are then given a large choice of reports, for this example we used “Receivable Invoice Detail”. Then you can decide the date range, which columns you are wanting to use and if you want to add any grouping/summarising.  After you decide that you can go to “Filter”, then “Description” and type in the specific item you are looking for.
Xero Interface. showing Receivable Invoice Detail.
  • Next you click “Update” and you should see the updated report.  From there you can click the “Export” button at the bottom of your report to either export to PDF or Excel.
Xero Interface, showing the excel spreadsheet exported report.

Additional Xero Features

Xero has a contact page where you can enter your client and suppliers’ details so they can be saved and easily accessed for assigning their bills/invoices, or if you are needing to contact any clients then their email address or phone number can be saved and easily accessed.  Xero also runs encrypted daily backups at multiple locations to ensure its user’s data is always safe and secure.  Using Xero to assist in financing makes a massive difference in time saving and accuracy of work. It feels safe using Xero thanks to its own personal authenticator app which adds another level of security to your account (to learn more about authenticator apps and multi-factor authentication click here).

In conclusion…

If you are looking to improve your finance experience Xero can be a great tool to use.  With many features like creating repeating invoices and automatically sending them, a dedicated reconciliation tab, and using/creating reports there could be something there to assist you in financing. At The Apprentice Store, I find this website provides the business with everything it needs to manage its finances.

Visit Xero to learn more about this cloud-based accounting software platform.

To learn about the IT services that The Apprentice Store offer get in touch at info@theapprenticestore.co.uk.

This blog was written by our Finance and Admin Apprentice, Donald Buchanan.

The Benefits of Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Introducing Multi-Factor Authentication

With an ever-increasing number of malicious attackers in the cyber world, industry standards and recommendations change more frequently than ever. Both corporate and consumer businesses need to look deeper into securing their data, that’s where Multi-Factor Authentication (referred to as MFA onwards) comes into action. MFA is a set of measures enabled to help users protect their accounts whether it be for banking accounts or documents or anything of value. A common form of MFA is a text message with a code sent to a mobile number which can then be entered on a computer or mobile device to confirm a login attempt. Other common methods are time-based codes for each account shown through an app (known as an authenticator app). Alternatively, biometrics such as fingerprints or voice/face recognition can also be used. A helpful feature of MFA is that, within a short period of time, using MFA once will allow the user to log in to valuable apps and documents without the need to use MFA every time. However, this will only work for a short period of time and eventually, the user will need to confirm a login attempt with MFA.

A white laptop showing a green skull and crossbones, two magnifying glasses highlight green fingerprints on the screen of the laptop.

MFA is important

Nowadays the majority of people use passwords or PIN combinations to guard their phones, computers or data. Whilst this provides security by narrowing access to people who know the password or PIN this often proves to be insufficient.  Frequently people be will use either a single or handful of passwords that they can remember across all their accounts. Security-wise this is a danger by itself as it would only take one or two accounts to be breached to get access to potentially everything that a user has access to. By enabling MFA there is always an additional factor for security.

Let’s say that a password is found out by a malicious actor and they attempt to log in, if text message codes were enabled, the owner of the account would receive a code on their phone. By seeing the code appear whilst knowing that no login attempt was made by them, it is a safe assumption that the password was compromised and should be changed. In the same scenario, if prompted to scan a fingerprint then the only way for the bad actor to gain access would be with the consent and participation of the account owner.

A stream of blue energy wrapping around a padlock and fingerprint icon. Someone’s hand is pressing on the fingerprint icon.

What we recommend

It is always highly advisable to prioritise password length over complexity, the more letters and characters in place, the more secure the password. With all that said there’s always a potential inconvenience to users when their usual behaviour of passwords with rememberable words or events is changed to lengthy and ambiguous characters. Increasing password length is always a good way to go, however, it is still a single line of defence, if it becomes known there are no other means of preventing access.

MFA helps end-users by providing more flexible criteria for creating passwords. They can use something they can reasonably remember and only have to spend a little more than a handful of seconds on going through the first login steps. With an example of time-based codes from an app, the user would just type their rememberable password of 12 or more characters, take their phone, open an authenticator app (e.g. Google Authenticator) and enter a short 6-8 digit code. As a result of spreading the login process across at least two methods of authentication, the user can use relatable passwords which they are a lot less likely to forget and can keep their accounts secure.

If you would like to know more about Multi-Factor Authentication, please contact us at info@theapprenticestore.co.uk or call us on +44(0)1463 572042.

This blog was written by Flynn Liepins, our IT Support Apprentice.

What is WordPress?

WordPress: an introduction

What do you think of when someone mentions WordPress? You may immediately think of how WordPress is an online website creator tool and you would be right! There is, however, more to this initial assumption, for example, WordPress is a CMS (Content Management System), which is a fancy way of saying WordPress allows you to create content that you can edit and publish. With WordPress, bloggers, article writers, and small businesses can easily create the content they want effectively.

When developing websites WordPress is one of the biggest tools used worldwide. It is a global tool that is used on around 37% of all websites on the internet. The biggest reason for this is WordPress is extremely easy to use, follow, and design. WordPress is the tool we use here at The Apprentice Store for our web development projects. We believe it offers the best price, functionality, and flexibility for our clients.

WordPress is a simple but extremely powerful tool, in fact, it is so easy you can set up a website in no time at all and have a fully operating website. With relative ease, WordPress allows all kinds of projects to be completed, be those of a small blog website to a fully functioning dynamic eCommerce store. WordPress gives you access to a one-stop shop for everything you will need to make a website from beginner to pro, all under one roof.

WordPress: the basics

Next, we will talk about the things which make up a WordPress Website the main things are as follow;

  1. The Theme
  2. Plugins
  3. Gutenberg Block Editor

Now this list can seem a bit daunting. This list is here to show you a few things you need to make a simple WordPress website.

The Theme

The theme is like the skin of your website, it is how it appears to your website’s visitors. Now there are tens of thousands of themes and they can vary from being free to rather pricey. However, most free themes offer a large amount of functionality which will be acceptable for most people. Neve is a prime example of an easy theme to use. This theme in the free version is excellent for simple to complex projects.

Plugins

A plugin is a tool that adds extra functionality to our website, be that visually or functionality based. For example, we download a plugin that will give us a better search bar or a plugin that will give us extra functionality within your Gutenberg Editor (you can find this further down). Plugins are an easy stress-free way of adding some functionality and/or features to our website, often for free. Most plugins come in a free or pro version, however in most cases for a simple website the free version will offer you the functionality you need.

A stable plugin should on average be updated every month to three months at most. If for whatever reason a plugin hasn’t been updated in 5+ months, it is safe to assume this plugin is no longer being supported. This is important as updates don’t only give you new features, they fix security flaws. So the longer the plugin is left unsupported, the higher the risk there will be a security issue/flaw.

For example, if you were looking for a contact form plugin you would look to plugins like Contact Form by WPForms or Ninja Forms as they seem to have a large star rating and a relatively new update. Contact Form 7 does have a lot of installations but the last update was 3 weeks ago (as of writing this). Their star rating is also lower than both Contact Form by WPForms and Ninja Form.

Free vs Pro Plugins

Now with plugins, there can sometimes be 2 different versions of these plugins a free version and the pro version. The free version will be a plugin providing you with the basic version of what it offers. For example, let’s say a table builder. The free version will simply let you make a table and add text. However, the pro version of this plugin may allow you to embed videos and let you change the background colours. Another perk of going pro is it may offer better priority customer service for being a paying customer. Now in most cases, the free version of the plugins will be what you want. However, if you are considering buying a pro version please do your research first. Make sure the free version doesn’t offer what you essentially need.

The same rules can be applied to pro plugins when it comes to the regularity of updates.

(Please note: developers can be contacted via their contact information. If you don’t know when something is still being supported, you can contact them to discuss the matter)

Gutenberg Block Editor

This is possibly the easiest and most enjoyable part of a website this is where we design our content. WordPress changed the way their websites are designed by introducing the block system. For example, if you want to add text you would choose a paragraph block, an image will be an image block etcetera.

The Gutenberg block editor made website design a much more user-friendly process for those with near to no web development knowledge, making it a simple and easy process to begin your website.

It is so easy and simple to use, someone with no experience with WordPress would be able to tell what blocks do what. Below you can see an example of the Gutenberg block editor. Plugins that convert into blocks will appear here too, as you can see this image shows that Ninja Form is installed. Generally, these blocks are easy to understand and even easier to implement.

Should you require assistance with your WordPress website please feel free to contact us and we can answer any questions you have.

This blog was written by one of our Web Development Apprentices Ryan Mckenna.

James’s work experience

Work background…

My name is James Hendry. This is a snippet of my time during my work experience at The Apprentice Store.

I reached out to The Apprentice store after doing my first year at Moray UHI. I was looking to gain valuable experience within the IT sector. David Massey, the Managing Director, kindly got back to me and offered me this opportunity. After a good discussion, he asked me to have a think about which area I would like to work in. I chose to work within the Web Dev team. The experience was delivered to me in a way that gave me power over how I worked. This gave me the chance to work both in the office and remotely. This is something I would never have done after years in engineering. I believe this was important as more companies are looking at remote working, so getting this mixture was great.

And so it begins…

I was excited about starting my placement. This was a step in the right direction to changing my career after being made redundant from my previous job.

My first week at The Apprentice Store was delivered online. It was a welcomed change and I was excited to work from home. I was welcomed by Declan the Operations Manager who gave me a small induction and made me feel at ease. My main task for the first week was to research a set of questions for David. The questions David had set were hugely important to web dev and researching them was great. The web dev team Ryan M, Ryan G, Michael and Laura were all on hand to assist if I needed any help with them. I came away from this exercise with a great document full of information that I can refer to going forward. Here is a picture of one of the research subjects from my document:

WooCommerce work.

This leads on to a meeting with David who went over my answers with me. We chose questions that I was slightly unsure about which prompted David to provide me with a very detailed answer. Moreover, it allowed me to further my knowledge.

On to the next task…

My days from here on were mainly focused on building a website with WordPress. David had given me The Seaboard Centre as a project.

WordPress is brilliant but has a huge amount to get your head around. However, I wasn’t fazed by this as I love to learn. I had dived into learning about everything from plugins to child themes and so much more. I looked at Html, CSS, PHP all of which are aspects of WordPress. During the creation of my small site Ryan M, Laura, Michael and Ryan G were all on hand to help. During my days the team would give me certain things to look at and use like the WordFence security plugin. The following are snippets of my site:

The Seaboard Centre work, home page.
The Seaboard Centre work, welcome text.

Having never used WordPress before but I was impressed with what was achievable. I now am eager to continue learning more about it. I have purchased a WordPress course so that I may be able to continue studying the inner workings of WordPress.

Onwards and upwards…

Going forward it’s sad to leave The Apprentice Store as I have enjoyed my time massively here.

I have gained a far better knowledge of Web development and the power of WordPress which I want to expand. The staff including “lucy the dog” are all brilliant and friendly and would help with any of my issues. The opportunity I had with The Apprentice Store team definitely make the transition to a new career and future achievable.

A final thank you from James.

I’d like to thank David and his team for having me. They gave me the opportunity to learn from them and it will help me on my journey.

The Apprentice Store wanted to thank James for taking the time to work with us and we wish him all the best for his future in IT. The team look forward to hearing how James gets on with his new course and where it will take him.

New move, new chapter

At the beginning of July, The Apprentice Store moved to a new office following the organisation’s continued growth and marking the next chapter.

Offering web development and design, IT support, and IT cybersecurity, The Apprentice Store is a full-service IT company.

The Apprentice Store, now five years old, recently welcomed Donald Buchanan, Ryan Geldart, and Laura Kirk, taking the team to 12. Ryan Geldart has been hired as a web development apprentice, Donald is providing finance and admin support and in another new role, Laura as a digital marketing apprentice.

The Apprentice Store is proud to be welcoming new colleagues into a new and bigger canal-side office in Inverness. 

The move is yet another milestone in a busy five years since the social enterprise was founded. Other highlights include the acquisition of leading web development business Lanetech and the Investors in Young People Gold Accreditation Award which was presented by Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney in 2019.

Now with a strong client portfolio with the majority of business obtained through client referral, the reputation of The Apprentice Store both for its breadth of IT services and excellence in customer service, extends throughout the Highlands and beyond.

Now settled into its new office, the team at The Apprentice Store is ready to support businesses of all sizes across the UK.

Get in touch on 01463 572042 or support@theapprenticestore.co.uk to see how we can help your business.

Follow The Apprentice Store on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and their website for updates and more.

Visit the team at the new office at Unit 3, 7a Canal Road, Inverness IV3 8NF. The team would be delighted to welcome existing and new clients to join them in the next part of their journey.