Catalyst Housing wins YMCA Employer of the Year Award

Catalyst – committed to employee development and retention

Catalyst Housing has been recognised by Central YMCA for its work in supporting new and existing employees through its YMCA Horticulture Apprenticeship Scheme. Here’s why… 

Catalyst is a leading housing association in London and the South East, which employs over 1,100 staff. 26 of their gardeners are currently undertaking YMCA Horticulture Apprenticeships, like 40 –year-old Shahid Mehmood from Cyprus.   

Shahid’s apprenticeship story

Former electrician, Shahid, had no gardening experience when he arrived in the UK in 2015. He joined Catalyst’s Estate Services team 18 months as a YMCA Horticulture Apprentice, with a view of retraining as a gardener. Today, Shahid works as an Estate Services Gardener for Catalyst in Oxford and speaks very highly of his team: 

“I love working here. Jeff, my Team Leader, has been right by my side since I applied. He did my initial training. George, my Line Manager, is also very supportive and has encouraged me on my journey. I believe in hard work and everybody across Oxford Estate Services recognises my hard work. I’m really proud of my managers – without them, I’d never be able to do what I’m doing today.”  

Shahid’s job entails maintaining the gardens, litter picking and keeping the area tidy. Neighbours in the Cambridge Road area are particularly pleased with his work including one elderly local resident:  

“I’ve been living here for so long, but I’ve never seen our site looking so beautiful.”  

“We have developed a great relationship with Central YMCA”

Catalyst’s Learning and Development Team approached Central YMCA in 2017 after learning about their Horticulture Apprenticeship Scheme. Catalyst were keen to upskill and invest in their Estate Services Team who maintain many of their sites. The most effective way to do this was to join forces with Central YMCA. Ellie Parminter from Catalyst Housing explains: 

“We wanted to work with Central YMCA to improve the skills of own workforce. We use this partnership as a vehicle to channel our Apprenticeship Levy funding, allowing us to invest and upskill our existing employees within our Estates Services team. We had a large number of gardeners who wanted to study and gain new qualifications. Apprenticeships provide them with the tools and qualifications to make them truly grow. 
We have developed a great relationship with Central YMCA who frequently give us updates on our gardeners’ progress. We’ve been really impressed with the two YMCA tutors, who’ve built great relationships with the gardeners.  We take on board their feedback and work with each apprentice to ensure that they’re recognised for their good work and improve upon areas where they struggle. We are proud of our work with the YMCA.” 

Going the extra mile 

Catalyst has a dedicated Learning and Organisational Development team, which serves its entire workforce. They go to great lengths to retain their apprentices by successfully balancing their employment with their studies. They are committed to every employee’s development, whether they’re new apprentices or existing staff.  

Everyone has the opportunity to learn new skills, progress and flourish. No other housing provider invests in their gardeners at this level.  Catalyst’s retention rates for apprentices are high. Ellie says: 

“We are very proud of our 26 apprentices. Our senior colleagues assist them by managing their workload and ensuring sufficient contact time with their YMCA tutors who visit their students at the Ealing and Oxford sites. Each gardener also attends a monthly workshop. 

Our gardeners fill out ‘skill scans’ to identify their strengths and areas for improvement, which the tutors help them with. The YMCA’s ‘Red Amber Green (RAG) Rated Reports’ for each learner helps us to understand who is achieving their qualification and who needs further support.   

We ensure that our employees can work and study at the same time, so that they can gain new qualifications and achieve better personal development.”  

Apprenticeships provide customers with a “better service”  

An experienced, fully qualified gardener who takes pride in their work and has the opportunity to progress, ultimately benefits the business and makes their customers happy:   

“We are committed to personal development for all of our employees. We want everyone who works for us to feel like they can grow with us. We can help them achieve long and prosperous careers. If we can help our workforce to improve their skills and abilities, it will help us to deliver a better service to our customers.” 

Central YMCA is an Ofsted accredited education provider that delivers vocational learning in 11 centres across the UK. Apprenticeships are a cost effective way of recruiting new talent and upskilling existing staff.